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Zimbabwean public fears police brutality than COVID-19

by Staff reporter
14 Apr 2020 at 07:43hrs | Views
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa last week declared a 21-day national lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), which has seen 14 people test positive and three deaths, that of broadcaster Zororo Makamba, a 50-year-old Harare man, both of whom died at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, and a 79-year-old Bulawayo man, who died at Mater Dei Hospital on April 4.

The order was followed by the deployment of members of the police and army to enforce compliance.

However, soon after the deployment had been effected, complaints of police and army brutality arose after incidents in which the security agents were accused of assaulting individuals accused of violating the lockdown order.

There were also additional accusations that in some cases, some members of the police force were demanding bribes from those arrested for violating the lockdown order and those that failed to pay would be consequently assaulted.

The developments were confirmed by corruption watchdog organisation, Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA), in a report highlighting police conduct since the beginning of the lockdown on March 30.

ACTSA director Obert Chinhamo said although they had no problem with the lockdown and police deployment as those were designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and ensure law and order, his organisation was disturbed by the increasing reports of corruption and brutality perpetrated by members of the police force.

"While ACT-SA has no issues whatsoever with the maintenance of law and order in the country because of health concerns, it is, however, gravely concerned with reports from members of the public who are being made to pay bribes in exchange for their freedom after being arrested or to operate their businesses outside the gazetted timelines," he said.

"To coerce suspects to pay bribes, these police officers threaten that all those refusing to comply will be held in custody for the duration of the 21 days lockdown. Reports of corruption have been received in Zhombe, Kwekwe, which could serve as a microcosm of the situation obtaining countrywide."

Chinhamo said he also came face-to-face with the corruption and brutality as he was also a victim on his way from shopping.

The developments are not new to Zimbabweans, who are now familiar with the security forces exercise of extreme force and brutality.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the police were investigating all reports of police brutality reported during the lockdown and analysing video evidence circulating on social media, where police officers were caught on camera brutalising civilians.

However, the public has lost faith in any investigations as soldiers who shot and killed six civilians in the August 1, 2018 post-election shootings are still to be brought to book.

In January last year, the security forces killed 16 civilians during protests triggered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa' s announcement of fuel hikes.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said they could not prosecute faceless suspects as the government had not identified the culprits.

In a snap survey, people who spoke to NewsDay said they were more afraid of the police and army — who have been patrolling some high-density suburbs in the evenings — than of COVID-19.

This is also evidenced by the huge number of people still roaming the streets and gathering together during the lockdown period, and only retreat indoors after hearing that security agents would be patrolling the neighbourhood.

Human rights lawyer and Zimbabwe Human Rights Association director Dzikamai Bere said police committed human rights abuses with impunity because none within their rank and file had ever been brought to justice for the violations.

"The police in Zimbabwe have not been known for respecting human rights. Over the years, civil society has documented cases of police brutality. Last year in February 2019, the police tortured to death at least one person (Witness Mashereni). Many others are tortured in silence. In that year again, the police were captured on camera assaulting protesters. Why they do that is because of impunity," he said.

"This is when perpetrators of human rights violation do not face justice for their conduct. Where there are no consequences for bad conduct, the deterrence effect of the law falls away. No one has been prosecuted for police brutality, hence police continue to do it without hesitation.

"In the case of Trevor Simbanegavi, the police officer who shot and caused the victim' s disability was promoted. We can argue that he was rewarded for his conduct. This is evidence that police brutality is a case of systematic and structural violence."

Bere said the abuse of human rights by the police has become institutionalised after it was inherited from the Ian Smith regime.

"This has become a culture. Suspects are tortured. Protestors are beaten. It' s their way of doing business. As long as there are no consequences for perpetrators, this evil practice will not stop. There must be institutional consequences to the police service for their conduct. They must be prosecuted for the violations. The leaders of the police must be brought to book to answer charges for violating section 206 of the Constitution," he said.

Section 206 of the Constitution speaks to the role of the army and the police of protecting the country and its citizens as well as ensuring security and territorial integrity.

Bere said there was need for consequences for individual police officers who commit the such constitutional violations and sanctions against their continued employment.

"There must be criminal charges against the officers. Finally, they must be made to pay compensation to the victims of their brutality. If these measures are implemented, there will be a change to the conduct of the police," he said.

Bere also highlighted the need to set up the Independent Complains Mechanism as provided for by the Constitution to ensure that such extra-judicial violations were investigated and the necessary legal actions taken.

"Additionally, section 210 of the Constitution provides for an Independent Complaints Mechanism to receive complaints against members of the security services. This is an accountability measure that is long due," he said.

The human rights defender said they had received complaints from many victims and referred 75 cases as part of a civil society consortium for prosecution at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Bere said they had also petitioned Parliament to operationalise the Independent Complaints Mechanism so that victims can access justice.

"The police service falls under security services provisions that are governed by Chapter 11 of the Constitution," he said.

"Section 206(3) states that protection of national security must be pursued with utmost respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms and the democratic values and principle enshrined in the Constitution."

Given these gaps in issues of the law and justice as they pertained to abuse by the security forces, the lockdown appears to have provided an opportunity for the police and the army to abuse the authority granted to it by the Constitution.

This has given rise to the pervasive fear among the public, which far exceeds the consequences of COVID-19.

Source - newsday

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