MAIN opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere’s presentation at the high-profile Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in Switzerland, which laid bare the country’s worsening human rights record, has rattled Zanu-PF activists and officials, with many of them demanding her punishment.
The summit is a major conference that shines a spotlight on urgent human rights situations that require global attention.
It provides human rights heroes, activists and former political prisoners a unique platform to testify on their personal struggles for democracy and freedom, while building an international community to take on dictatorship.
The summit is held around the main annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), when foreign ministers gather in Geneva to place critical issues on the international agenda.
This week, Mahere told delegates in Geneva that Zimbabwe is reeling under authoritarian rule amid fierce political repression, which has become worse than that of the late despotic president Robert Mugabe.
She said only free, fair and credible elections — won by the best competitor — can resolve the nation’s protracted crisis which is deepening in a renewed way.
Mahere said: “Zimbabwe suffers under a dictatorship worse than Mugabe. Almost half the population suffers from extreme poverty because those in power would rather loot and persecute than lead.
“It might surprise you that after repeated arrests and wrongful imprisonment, I have come to the UN optimistic, because the crackdown now taking place in Zimbabwe is a sign of victory.
“The government’s war against freedom and weaponisation of the law against myself and other government critics, journalists and civil society members including Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume who were wrongfully detained are calculated to send a chilling message to the rest of society; ‘We are watching you, even on Twitter. And this is what you get for participating in opposition politics’,” Mahere said.
Last week, Zengeza West legislator Sikhala was convicted, almost a year after his arrest, and slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence and a US$600 fine. Sikhala was however not released from custody, despite spending over 300 days in prison, with the state arguing he has outstanding cases.
A fortnight ago, Ngarivhume was arrested for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests. He was convicted by Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka on Thursday and has been sentenced to 48 months imprisonment, with 12 months suspended.
Said Mahere: “Now, I wouldn’t risk my life and freedom if I did not sincerely believe that change is possible. Courage does not mean that you are not afraid. It means that you act in spite of your fear because you believe in a greater cause.”
Her speech did not sit well with Zanu-PF activists and officials.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, through his Twitter handle @Tinoedzazvimwe1, tweeted: “Chituta kani!!!! (What a fool!) Wasting time on some motley crowd of zvimaNGOs. Hanzi ndaaddressa Summit!!!! (Wasting time on some motley crowd of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and you say you have addressed a summit!).”
In a long tweet, ruling party activist Rutendo Matinyararare, who leads an association, the Zimbabwe Anti-Sanctions Movement, condemned Mahere’s invitation to Geneva.
“When we apply to go and present at the UN or UNHRC, we are told that we need to be accredited as an observer organisation.
“But while civil society organizations, formed to fight sanctions and advocate for Zimbabwean human rights, struggle to be heard on this important issue that the UNHRC has condemned, created resolutions against and voted against; non-accredited individuals and criminals with no standing —representing no common interest — like Hopewell (Chin’ono) and Fadzai Mahere, are invited to Geneva to speak without a counter from those they condemn.
“Where is our Foreign Affairs when all this is happening? Why is our Permanent Representative at the UN not addressing these clear abuses of administrative process in the UNHRC? Why is he not as active as the American team in advancing Zimbabwe’s national interest?” read part of his tweet.
Last year, prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was invited to the Geneva conference where he pointed out Zimbabwe’s seriously dysfunctional health system, sparking an outcry from the government which eventually devised plans to clamp down on dissenting voices.
Since then, the government has made overtures to close the civic space to silence dissenting voices.
For instance, the government has presented a lot of amendments and legislation including the long threatened “Patriot Bill”, more properly the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, which was published in the Government Gazette in December last year.
The civic space has been closing.
Findings by a think-tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), show that the country is now under serious repression ahead of polls compared to the era under Mugabe.
The ZDI’s report titled: “Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023” shows a drastic fall in civil liberties during the political tenure of Mnangagwa, compared to the days of the late Mugabe.
The organisation made an analysis of the civic space between 2014 and 2021 by contrasting Mugabe’s final four years in power ahead of the 2018 elections, and Mnangagwa’s initial four years in power ahead of the 2023 elections.
The findings showed a 2% increase in civic space and state freedom during Mnangagwa’s first year in power, compared to Mugabe in 2014, while 2019 saw a 13% decline in state freedom from 44%.