Picture: Moeletsi Mabe
Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

Western embassies on Tuesday cautioned Zimbabwe’s government against trampling on its citizens' right to protest after police banned a demonstration organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Bulawayo.

Zimbabwe’s economy is experiencing its worst crisis in a decade with shortages of foreign currency, fuel, electricity and basic commodities such as bread and medicines.

The economic implosion has been worsened by the El Nino drought, which has left 5.7-million of the country’s 14-million people in need of food aid.

The ban in Zimbabwe's second-largest city was the second in a week after a similar ban in the capital Harare last Friday.

The opposition party also intended to protest against economic hardship and rampant corruption in the major cities.

Police and soldiers have been deployed in the third largest town of Gweru, in an apparent act of intimidation against those planning to demonstrate.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, heads of missions of the EU, the UK, Australia, Canada and the US said they were concerned about  brutality against opponents of the government.

“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians, prior to, during and following the demonstration in Harare on 16 August, are a cause for great concern.

“The Zimbabwe constitution guarantees the right to personal security from violence and prohibits physical or psychological torture. The heads of mission urge the authorities to hold perpetrators of violence legally responsible,” the heads of missions said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has often said that his government is eager to implement far-reaching reform and heal the country of its old ills.

But there has been little such action as human rights abuses continue unabated while draconian laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, which the government promised to repeal, are still being used to punish critics of the government. 

The envoys implored Zimbabwe’s government to walk the talk in implementing reform.

“Only by addressing concretely and rapidly these human rights violations will the government of Zimbabwe give credibility to its commitment to address longstanding governance challenges. The heads of mission reiterate their calls for the implementation of the government’s political and economic reform agenda, underpinned by inclusive national dialogue and increased efforts to address the severe social situation.”