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Zimbabwe Authorities Selectively Enforce COVID Lockdown, Rights Groups Say

FILE - A soldier patrols the streets ahead of planned anti-government protests amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30, 2020.
FILE - A soldier patrols the streets ahead of planned anti-government protests amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30, 2020.

Human rights groups in Zimbabwe say the government is selectively enforcing COVID-19 lockdown rules. On Wednesday, a court handed down prison sentences to organizers of a New Year’s eve music event while a friend of the president who held his own party was untouched by police.

When Zimbabwe’s government first imposed a lockdown to rein in the spread of COVID-19 last March, police used the lockdown as grounds for forcibly shutting down the meetings of opposition groups, while letting events of the ruling ZANU-PF party go ahead with no interference.

A new 12-hour curfew went into effect this week and Musa Kika, executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, expressed concern that police are acting the same way.

“So, we have a security apparatus [whose] modus [operandi], whose prime mode of control, is force. Force that is meted out against the requirements of our constitution and laws and against regional and international standards to which Zimbabwe is bound. So, we have policing that turn to disregard human rights. And it is just incorrect to believe that enforcement of public health measures should disregard individual or group rights,” Kika said.

On Wednesday, a court in Harare sentenced three men to 12 months in prison for organizing an overnight music concert on New Year’s eve.

Tafadzwa Hungwe, their lawyer, spoke to reporters after the ruling.

“We were obviously shocked at the level of punishment that was meted out by the court today given that there is an option of fine and community service. As it stands, my instructions are to take it to the High Court and take it further. And we hope for the best in High Court,” Hungwe said.

Since the arrest of the three, social media has been awash with accusations that authorities are enforcing the law selectively. Critics say police did not arrest a well-known close ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa for holding a New Year’s eve party which also went viral on social media.

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Kembo Mohadi defends the work the country’s security forces, saying all they are doing is enforcing the new lockdown, announced over the weekend.

“Our security agencies will continue to enforce strict, tough standard operating procedures to ensure safety of all our citizens. We are our own saviors. And it is our behavioral change which will take us out of this danger. We have to be disciplined. When the situation doesn’t allow, there shouldn’t be any enjoyment, there shouldn’t be any merrymaking at all. We need to remain home and ourselves and others safe,” Mohadi said.

Zimbabwe had more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 418 deaths.

Health experts say the numbers are likely to rise over the next two weeks because of big gatherings many people held during the holiday season.