World News

Zimbabwe's security forces accused of 'systematic torture' during deadly protests

Posted January 23, 2019 8:08 a.m. EST

— Zimbabwe's security forces deliberately targeted unarmed citizens and used "systematic torture" during recent street protests, a new report from Zimbabwe's Human Rights Commission has found.

The country was hit by a wave of deadly protests following a dramatic hike in fuel prices. Angry citizens took to the streets and there were violent clashes with the army and police.

In its report, the independent national commission acknowledged that protesters vandalized police stations and vehicles and also destroyed and looted shops.

However, the report said, the protesters actions "did not justify torture of citizens by the security forces. The right to freedom from torture is one right that cannot be derogated from under any circumstances."

The commission has received reports of several deaths after live ammunition was used on protesters.

"At least eight deaths have been reported to the commission and mostly attributed to the use of live ammunition," commission member Sheila Matindike said at a media conference in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday.

"Whilst the police officers in charge were not forthcoming with their side of the story, the verified facts raise a lot of question around the crowd control capacity of the law enforcement agents," Matindike said.

Men were beaten with batons while they lay on the ground, security agents also used the "falanga" torture, which involves beating the soles of the feet, the report stated.

Zimbabwe's minister of state for national security, Owen Ncube, confirmed last week that there were injuries and loss of life during the protests but blamed nongovernmental organizations and other individuals working with the opposition coalition MDC Alliance for instigating the violence.

Last week the government said it had arrested more than 600 people who it accused of taking part in looting and violence during the protests.

The commission said its findings show that security forces deliberately targeted men who lived near areas where barricades had been placed and near areas that were torched or looted by protesters.

MPs and councilors linked to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party were also targeted, according to the commission.

In his first statement on the unrest, Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa called the alleged violence by the country's security forces "unacceptable and a betrayal," and said an investigation would follow.

Mnangagwa, who had been mostly absent during the week of deadly protests that shook the country, vowed that "heads will roll," if an investigation found evidence of misconduct among the security forces.

"Violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe," he said.

"Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll," he added.

The President arrived back in Harare on Tuesday from Switzerland, where he had been due to attend the World Economic Forum meeting.

"One week ago I announced measures to stabilize our nation's crucial fuel supply. I was aware that these measures may not be popular, and this was not a decision we took lightly. But it was the right thing to do," Mnangagwa said on Twitter.