The US-based Human Rights Watch organization will today (Thursday) honor a Zimbabwean lawyer for his role in the fight against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Today’s award comes a few days after Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Zimbabwean government of using violent repression against civil society organizations in the past three years. Tiseke Kasambala is a researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. She explains to VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty why lawyer Arnold Tsunga is receiving one of the organization’s highest awards today.
“We are honoring Arnold Tsunga who is a prominent human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe. He’s executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and he and his colleagues at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have been at the forefront of defending those who have no voice against President Mugabe’s regime, those who have been abused and victimized. For instance, the victims of the evictions of last year, Arnold Tsunga has been at the forefront of taking their cases to the courts and demanding justice, demanding compensation for these people. Because of his bravery, because of his courage and his willingness to work in such a highly restrictive environment, Human Rights Watch is giving him one its highest awards,” Kasambala said.
Kasambala says human rights abuses in Zimbabwe have gotten worse in the past three years.
“Whenever peaceful activists try to respond to the deteriorating economic and political conditions in Zimbabwe the government comes really heavily upon them. Police are brutally beating up peaceful protests and beating up civil society activists with weapons and in some cases rifle butts. There has been mass arbitrary arrests around peaceful protests, and those in custody have been in some cases subjected to severe beating and mistreatment that in our view amounts to torture,” she said.
Zimbabwe minister of state security Didymus Mutasa has been quoted as describing the Human Rights Watch report about his country as “lies.” The minister reportedly said his government reserves the right to ensure that its citizens observe Zimbabwe laws. But Kasambala disagrees with minister Mutasa.
“The law that Minister Mutasa is talking about is highly repressive. He is talking about the repressive laws that his government has introduced in Zimbabwe since 2002 to prevent people from freely speaking their views, from freely expressing themselves, and from criticizing or questioning the government. Among these laws is the Public Sector and Security Act, which gives the government broad powers to prevent people from going out in the streets and peacefully expressing their views which under international law is actually their right. So when he says that our report is lies, he should go and visit the 15 trade unionists who were severely beaten up whose case I documented,” Kasambala said.
Kasambala defends her organization’s claims that the Zimbabwe government tortured those arrested for peacefully demonstrating. She says she personally documented their cases through interviews with a number of civil society organizations in Zimbabwe.
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