Govt has used COVID-19 to “lock down” democracy, a human rights lobby group, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has said.
Speaking during a virtual meeting marking the launch of a COVID-19 report titled Rights in Crisis, by ZimRights, Human Rights NGO Forum programmes coordinator Musa Kika said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government had used the COVID-19 restrictive measures to silence dissenting voices.
“Both senior government and ruling party officials have made threats against civil society organisations (CSOs) that are working to advance human rights and democracy. Even those who have exposed corruption have not been spared,” Kika said.
He said government had further taken the opportunity to hold public hearings on constitutional amendments despite protestations and the unceremonious recall of opposition MPs.
“Constitution amendment public hearings are an important component of our shared existence as society, and you cannot rush it through in the middle of a pandemic just to go through the motions,” Kika said.
“People still have the right to peacefully demonstrate and say out their minds. We have seen individuals who have sought to demonstrate being arrested, and even abducted and tortured.”
Government has been accused of failing to effectively mitigate the effects of COVID-19, which has resulted in the country recording a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
Kika added: “There has been evidence that government officials and those enforcing the lockdown have been interpreting and applying the lockdown regulations in an inconsistent fashion.
“One day, you hear the security forces have mounted a serious lockdown in Kwekwe, or Masvingo, or Gweru. Certainly, one of the key tenets under the principle of legality, the law and how it is applied must be certain and clear.”
He said COVID-19 had exposed deep-seated institutional and systemic challenges in the country’s disaster preparedness.
“The need for institutional reform, which CSOs have been agitating for, is now amplified. A significant cause of the poor government response being witnessed now is due to poor systems in place, and weak institutions. We were not disaster ready and we still are not,” Kika said.