FILE - An injured man is helped at a private hospital after an alleged assault by a group of uniformed soldiers in Harare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.
FILE - An injured man is helped at a private hospital after an alleged assault by a group of uniformed soldiers in Harare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.

HARARE - Zimbabwe on Friday faced a “total internet shutdown,” a media group said, after a days-long violent crackdown on people protesting a dramatic fuel price increase. Badly injured people streamed into a hospital in the capital after alleged assaults by security forces.

“Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

Media group MISA-Zimbabwe shared a text message from the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, calling the government’s internet order “beyond our reasonable control.” The High Court will hear a challenge to the shutdown on Monday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

There was heavy police presence in Harare, Jan. 17, 2019, as Zimbabwe returned to calmness following three days of protests that turned violent and saw authorities shut down internet service. (C. Mavhunga/VOA)
Zimbabwe Slowly Returns to Normalcy After Violent Protests
Zimbabwe was calm Thursday after three days of protests that turned violent and saw authorities shut down internet service. Doctors said they treated dozens of people with gunshot wounds.Late in the day, police brought Pastor Evan Mawarire to court after he spent a night in jail on charges of inciting violence through social media. But Mawarire was facing new charges of trying to subvert President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government, according to state papers.

A prominent pastor and activist who faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge arrived at court, one of more than 600 people arrested this week. Evan Mawarire has called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.

Mawarire is accused of inciting civil disobedience online. “It’s a shame what’s happening,” the pastor said.

International calls for restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces are growing, while Mnangagwa prepares to plead for more investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive. Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest. Rights groups and others have accused security forces of targeting activists and labor leaders in response, with the United States expressing alarm.

A policeman stands guard as some of the people arrested during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices, make their court appearance at the magistrates courts in Harare, Jan,16, 2019.
US Alarmed as Zimbabwe Targets, Beats Activists Amid Unrest
The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Thursday it is "alarmed" by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating activists and labor leaders after a local doctors' rights group said it had treated 68 gunshot cases and scores of other cases of assault.The U.S. also urged Zimbabwe's government to restore access to social media as the country faces its worst unrest since deadly post-election violence in August.

The U.N. human rights office on Friday urged Zimbabwe to stop the crackdown, noting reports of intimidating door-to-door searches by security forces.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.

Injured people streamed into a private hospital in the capital, Harare, on Thursday. Some had broken legs. A nurse attended to a man with a broken spine.

Albert Taurai told The Associated Press he had ventured out to look for bread when plainclothes officers wearing masks beat him up, accusing him of barricading roads.

Keith Frymore, a 21-year-old security guard, had a torn lip. He told the AP a group of uniformed soldiers attacked him at work.

“I need $70 to get help here. I don’t have that kind of money,” he said.

Other hungry Harare residents who ventured out seeking food have reported being tear-gassed by police. Soldiers were still controlling long fuel lines in the capital on Friday, and many wary residents stayed at home.

Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

The internet shutdown cuts off crucial access to the mobile money that Zimbabwe’s government uses to pay teachers and other public workers. Some said they can no longer afford fares for public transport, and some shops have run out of basics such as bread.

Death tolls in this week’s unrest have varied. Eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

Streets of Harare's central business district were largely deserted as Zimbabwe took heed of the three-day strike dubbed - #ZimbabweShutDown – over a 150 percent fuel hike and general increase of cost of living. (C Mavhunga/VOA)
Zimbabwe NGOs, Opposition Accuse Security Forces of Brutalizing Protesters 
Protests in Zimbabwe over a fuel price hike entered the third and final planned day Wednesday, with police arresting a pastor accused of inciting violence via social media.Early Wednesday, armed police surrounded the home of Pastor Evan Mawarire before arresting him for helping organize a three-day stay at home strike to protest Zimbabwe's 150 percent fuel hike. Pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by detectives as Pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by…

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.”

But among those arrested are several ruling ZANU-PF party community leaders as well as a soldier and a police officer.

The UK’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters.

The European Union in a statement late Thursday noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that internet service be restored.