Zimbabwe: Authorities must account for disappearance of three opposition leaders after COVID-19 protest

Three leaders from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-Alliance) have been missing since yesterday

The women were part of a demonstration organised against the state’s failure to provide social protection for the poor during the current COVID-19 lockdown

‘The disappearance of these political activists amounts to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law’ - Muleya Mwananyanda

Authorities in Zimbabwe must urgently account for three missing female leaders from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-Alliance) and ensure their safe return, Amnesty International said today amid growing fears for their safety. 

The three MDC-Alliance youth leaders - Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecelia Chinembiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organising Secretary for Youth) - were arrested at a roadblock by police and soldiers yesterday. 

Police have denied that the three are in custody.

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa, said:

“The disappearance of these political activists amounts to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law. 

“Zimbabwe has a history of enforced disappearances, with many activists yet to be found. Many have been tortured in police custody, despite denials by police. The longer these women are in custody, the higher their risk of torture too.

“It is deeply alarming that the state claims that it cannot account for the three activists when they were arrested at a roadblock run by both the police and the military.

“Authorities must urgently institute a search operation and do all within their power to ensure the safe return of these youth leaders. There must be a full and thorough investigation into their abduction, with those suspected of criminal responsibility brought to justice in fair trials before an ordinary civilian court.”

Disappeared and ‘held incommunicado’

The three women were part of a demonstration organised by MDC-Alliance Youth against the state’s failure to provide social protection for the poor during the current COVID-19 lockdown. 

As the country attempts to curb the spread of coronavirus, many people are not allowed to go to work, putting them at risk of poverty and starvation.

According to The Herald, a state-owned newspaper, National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the trio’s arrest, although he said he was yet to discover where they were currently being detained.  

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a local non-governmental organisation, has unsuccessfully searched more than eight police stations in an attempt to establish where they are being held. 

Some sources are concerned the three politicians are being held incommunicado, to force them into releasing information about how the demonstration was organised without police knowledge.

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