Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remains in force. On October 26, police cited the law to arrest Wisdom Mkhwananzi after he gave testimony at a commission of inquiry hearing in Bulawayo accusing President Mnangagwa of complicity in the government’s killing of more than 20,000 people in the 1980s known locally as “Gukurahundi.”
On September 29, police arrested Norman Machipisa after he reportedly said President Emmerson Mnangagwa was incapable of running the country. He was charged with contravening section 41(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) for disorderly conduct. Harare Magistrate Learnmore Mapiye released him on $20 bail and remanded him until October 11. On August 21, police arrested Munyaradzi Shoko and charged him with criminal nuisance for allegedly posting offensive statements on Facebook concerning President Mnangagwa. On August 23, police withdrew charges against Shoko.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.
Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship. Police and journalist unions regularly met in an effort to promote a safe working environment.
On August 3, riot police briefly stopped a press conference where MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa planned to speak on alleged election rigging in the aftermath of the July 30 polls. Broadcasting and Media Services Minister Simon Khaya Moyo intervened, and police departed the venue, after which the press conference proceeded.
The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.
Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged $200 for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation while local journalists paid $10 for a one-year accreditation. ZEC charged journalists covering the July 30 election an additional $50 fee for further accreditation to election-related events and facilities.
On September 5, media reported government authorities denied a passport application for freelance journalist Violet Gonda. Gonda lived in exile for nearly 15 years, and returned to the country in the aftermath of the 2017 military intervention ending President Robert Mugabe’s rule. Officials at the Registrar General’s office stated they could not process her passport for reasons dating back to 2002 when she worked for London-based SW Radio Africa. Her appeal remained pending at year’s end.
Most international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate in the country.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation–the country’s only domestically based television-broadcasting station–operated one television channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.
During the year the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) granted three broadcasting licenses, including a content distribution license to the government-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Private Limited, and video on demand licenses (dealing with internet video content) to Econet Wireless (operating Kwese TV) and Tel One. On September 7, the BAZ awarded independent media house AMH an online television and radio license.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the major political parties routinely harassed journalists. On September 4, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) condemned what it stated was the systematic “censorship, banning, or expulsion of journalists from public events.” It stated that the trend was against the letter and spirit of media freedoms as espoused in the country’s constitution.
On April 30, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News, after he was seen taking pictures of a ZANU-PF meeting with party polling agents. He was charged with one count of criminal trespassing. Phiri was later released after paying a fine.
On May 24, Deputy Minister of Justice Terrence Mukupe assaulted NewsDay journalist Blessed Mhlanga and his wife during a live radio program. Mhlanga had released a video recording of an internal ZANU-PF meeting in which Mukupe said the military would not recognize opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa as president if he won the July 30 election. When Mhlanga went to police to file a complaint regarding the assault, he learned Mukupe already had made a statement accusing him as the aggressor.
On May 14, MDC Alliance supporters manhandled Tawanda Mudimu, a photographer with state media outlet The Herald, while he covered demonstrations at the party’s headquarters in Harare. According to the MISA-Zimbabwe chapter, MDC Alliance supporters allegedly assaulted Mudimu and demanded he delete the pictures he had taken during opposition demonstrations.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution outlaws criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.
Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.
National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.
The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways. The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media.
On June 18, the ZPCS summoned prison officer John Mahlabera to a disciplinary hearing for a tweet perceived to be supportive of MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa. The prison authorities said Mahlabera’s actions showed disloyalty to President Mnangagwa.
The Interception of Communications Act (ICA) along with the Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations, 2014 (SI 95 of 2014) facilitated eavesdropping and call interception. Under ICA law enforcement officers may apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing law enforcement to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and messages. Using the statutory instrument, officers may apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government did not restrict academic freedom during the year, however the country’s laws restricted the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities, and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violated provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (CECA) received fines and prison sentences. On May 10, Harare Magistrate Josephine Sande ordered musician Tawanda Mumanyi to pay a fine of $100 or stay one month in prison for recording a song deemed “obscene and indecent.” Authorities convicted Mumanyi of contravening CECA for the “Kurova Hohwa” song’s sexually suggestive lyrics.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, or both. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering–defined as 15 or more individuals–seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law also allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. The government enacted POSA after a demonstration resulted in security forces killing six opposition protestors on August 1. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.
Although many groups did not seek permits, other groups informed police of their planned events, and police either denied permission or gave no response. The MDC Alliance accused police of using the cholera epidemic in Harare as an excuse to ban large public assemblies to prevent an MDC Alliance rally on September 15. Media reported that from September 16-22 police forcibly removed vendors who refused to comply with orders related to the cholera outbreak to vacate their stalls in the Harare CBD. On October 11, police arrested Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and 35 trade unionists in Harare and other major city centers as they awaited a court decision to overturn the ban on their planned demonstration against the government’s 2 percent tax on electronic transfers. Police had previously denied ZCTU’s request for a permit, and a Harare magistrate dismissed ZCTU’s challenge to the police ban on October 12.
Authorities often denied requests by civil society, trade unions, religious groups, or political parties other than ZANU-PF to hold public events if the agenda conflicted with government policy positions. There were several reports of political rallies interrupted by opposing political parties.
On February 26, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse dozens of National University of Science and Technology students protesting continued strikes by lecturers. Police dogs injured eight students, while police arrested 61 students. A local NGO reported 15 students sought medical treatment after this incident.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Although the government did not restrict the formation of political parties or unions, ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. For example, a local NGO reported that on July 25, a local councilor in Mbire threatened to have community members beaten and their homes burnt down if they voted for opposition political parties. Local NGOs provided multiple reports similar to this one.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern at Tongogara refugee camp, but it interfered with some humanitarian efforts directed at internally displaced persons. The Registrar General continues to delay implementing a joint statelessness study as part of UNHCR’s campaign to end statelessness by 2024.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces detained irregular migrants in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners. The government sometimes worked with international organizations to assist the voluntary repatriation of migrants, primarily Mozambicans settled on the border between the countries.
In-country Movement: Police interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints less frequently than in 2017 but continued to operate regular checkpoints nationwide along most major routes.
Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and the right to a passport or other travel documents. The Office of the Registrar General imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for citizens entitled to dual citizenship, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizenship. Despite high-profile cases in which courts confirmed the rights of Zimbabweans to hold dual citizenship, many poorer citizens could not afford the legal costs of appealing passport and other travel document denials.
Many citizens left the country to settle in other countries. In search of employment, young Zimbabweans routinely settled in South Africa and Botswana. Although South Africa and Botswana repatriated hundreds of them each year, the majority eventually found their way back to these countries. The majority of white citizens who lost their farms beginning in 2000 continued to move to other countries. Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa continued to support white Zimbabwean former farmers by making land available at concessionary rates.
Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. A number of persons, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, left the country and remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.
Citizenship: The constitution provides for three different classes of citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. The government deprived some sections of the population of citizenship rights based on the law, which revokes the citizenship of persons who fail to return to the country in any five-year period.
Despite a constitutional provision of citizenship and having voted previously, some persons were denied the right to vote during the July 30 elections because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship. An amendment to the Citizenship Act, which would align the law with the 2013 constitution and allow dual citizenship, remained pending in parliament at year’s end. Independent groups estimated that as many as two million citizens might have been disenfranchised, including those perceived to have opposition leanings, such as the more than 200,000 former commercial farm workers from neighboring countries and approximately 30,000 mostly white dual nationals. During the year citizens had to sue the government to assert dual citizenship rights. Poor citizens who could not afford the costs of litigation remained disadvantaged.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
According to international organizations, approximately 113,000 households were displaced and more than 250 groups of identified IDPs lived throughout the country. The primary causes of displacement were rural evictions (45.7 percent), natural disasters (27.7 percent), localized conflict (13.3 percent), and urban evictions (13.1 percent). The most significant historical events that created internal displacement included state-sponsored election-related violence, land reform, and Operation Murambatsvina (the government’s eviction of citizens from nonfarming areas in 2005). According to one NGO, Operation Murambatsvina resulted in the destruction of homes and livelihoods affecting an estimated 700,000 persons. Until 2009 the government denied the existence of any IDPs.
In 2014 approximately 15,000 persons were displaced from the vicinity of the Tokwe-Mukosi dam in Masvingo Province. Other recent documented displacements were from disputed farming areas. At year’s end several thousand households in disputed farming areas were at risk of displacement due to verifiable threats or eviction notices. Most of the persons displaced had resided on their land for years without formal offer letters or title deeds. The government provided no resettlement assistance to evicted families and depended primarily on international organizations to do so.
IDPs from previous years remained in near-emergency conditions, with an overwhelming majority living without basic sanitation. IDPs were among the populations at greatest risk of food insecurity. In addition to improved living conditions, IDPs required regularization of their status. Without needing any official documentation, several generations of farm workers originally from neighboring countries previously resided in insular commercial farming communities. With the eviction of farm owners, these farm workers were forced to adjacent communal lands and left without employment as well as health and education services.
Contractors and NGOs independent of the government that carried out food security and other assessments faced challenges in accessing certain rural districts. In isolated cases local authorities advised organizations against traveling to farms involved in ownership disputes, where aid workers might be at risk.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted approximately 20,177 refugees and asylum seekers during the year. As of July 31, 13,356 were registered and 58 percent were granted refugee status. The Tongogara refugee camp hosted approximately 12,100 refugees and asylum seekers, with an estimated 100 arrivals each month, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Burundi.
Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at the Tongogara refugee camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end more than 943 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 6,546 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the border with Mozambique.
Employment: Refugees in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in the Tongogara refugee camp. UNHCR partners continued to monitor and explore livestock production for livelihood activities in the camp.
Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed Rwandan refugees, who lost prima facie refugee status following implementation of the 2013 Rwandan cessation clause, to remain in the country pending final arrangements by the government. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses would be permitted to regularize their stay in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, this right was restricted. The political process continued to be heavily biased in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has dominated politics and government and manipulated electoral results since independence in 1980.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Most international and local independent observers characterized the July 30 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as largely free of violence but not meeting the mark for a free and fair election. Political parties and civil society organizations complained of widespread voter disenfranchisement, including of foreign-born and diaspora voters, and the inability to compete on a level playing field. State media coverage was heavily biased in favor of ZANU-PF and provided almost no access to or positive coverage of the opposition. There were reports of voter intimidation, including the collection of voter registration slips by party and tribal leaders in an attempt to undermine the secrecy of the vote. While the law obliges traditional chiefs to be impartial, in rural areas traditional leaders mobilized voters and canvassed support for ZANU-PF. In return traditional leaders continued to receive farms, vehicles, houses, and other benefits. Local NGOs also reported traditional leaders’ selective distribution of agricultural inputs and food aid to reward ZANU-PF supporters and punish opposition voters.
The credibility and independence of ZEC were called into question for allegedly being composed largely of personnel loyal to ZANU-PF. ZEC failed to release a finalized voter’s roll until after the nomination court announced on June 14 the 23 candidates to contest the presidency. The voter’s roll ZEC provided to the MDC Alliance and other opposition parties did not include biometric information and differed from the one used at polling stations on Election Day. ZEC allowed political party representatives a one-time viewing of the printing of presidential ballots but provided no transparency of their storage or transportation to polling stations prior to the election. Ballot papers were printed in an unbalanced layout with the names of 13 candidates in one column and nine in the next to allow Mnangagwa’s name to appear at the top of a column. On July 12, ZEC officials were present at Ross Police Camp in Bulawayo when police officers cast ballots in the presence of supervisors, but they did so without observation from opposition party polling agents in violation of the Electoral Act.
Voting on Election Day occurred peacefully, with a large voter turnout estimated at 85 percent. Most observers found ZEC-administered polling stations well run by competently trained officers. ZEC successfully accredited 1,209 foreign election observers and journalists in a timely and efficient manner. Some local observers, however, reported the accreditation process to be overly burdensome. On August 1, military personnel killed six unarmed protestors during an opposition-led election-related demonstration in Harare’s CBD. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.
On August 3, ZEC released presidential election results, declaring incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote. Within 24 hours, ZEC provided polling station level results on CD-ROMs to stakeholders. Statistical analysis by citizen observers found ZEC’s announced presidential results to be within a credible statistical range, although the margin of error indicated a presidential runoff election was also within that range. Leading opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa challenged ZEC’s declaration of Mnangagwa as the winner. ZEC later revised Mnangagwa’s percentage of the vote to 50.6 percent in response to Chamisa’s legal challenge.
On August 22, the Constitutional Court held a hearing to review the challenge to the announced presidential election results. The court denied permits to allow four South African members of Chamisa’s legal team to argue the case. On August 24, the court unanimously determined the petition did not meet the required evidentiary standards. It declared Mnangagwa the winner of the presidential election and ruled that the petitioners had to pay the court costs of the other parties to the case.
On August 26, the chief justice inaugurated Mnangagwa. The ZANU-PF party won an exact two-thirds majority in the 270 member National Assembly but failed to garner a two-thirds majority in the 80-member Senate. The Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa declared the election free and fair.
Political Parties and Political Participation: An unprecedented number of presidential candidates (23) and political parties (55) contested the July 30 elections. Despite this opening of political space, elements within ZANU-PF and the security forces intimidated and committed abuses against other parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. Local NGOs reported ZANU-PF youth members and war veterans threatened communities with violence if ZANU-PF candidates lost in the elections. In July police arrested ZANU-PF supporters for allegedly threatening to burn the house of United African National Council parliamentary candidate Silver Chiripanyanga in Mashonaland East province. Local NGOs also reported dozens of instances of ZANU-PF supporters removing opposition and independent parties’ campaign signs and materials in wards throughout the country. In June Build Zimbabwe Alliance party leaders posted photos of campaign posters allegedly torn by ZANU-PF supporters in Gweru.
Members of the opposition MDC Alliance also carried out acts of intimidation and committed abuses, although at a much lower rate than did ZANU-PF supporters. MDC Alliance supporters of two rival primary candidates assaulted each other in the Harare suburb of Epworth on June 2. On March 4, supporters of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa assaulted supporters of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) Vice President Thokozani Khupe at a party meeting in Bulawayo.
The constitution provides specific political rights for all citizens. Laws, however, are not fully consistent with the constitution and allow discrimination in voter registration to continue. For example, on May 30, the Constitutional Court ruled against amending the Electoral Act to allow up to five million members of the Zimbabwean diaspora to vote from abroad. The court, however, allowed Zimbabweans with dual citizenship to register to vote provided they presented certain identification documents.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did fully participate as voters and candidates. Women remained largely underrepresented in local and national political offices, and men overwhelmingly held most senior positions in the public sector. Female candidates faced particularly vitriolic gender-based insults regarding appearance, sexual proclivity, and other gender-based stereotypes and faced challenges within their party if running against a male candidate in a primary. Several female candidates from the MDC Alliance reported some inside the party leadership required women to have sex with them in order for their names to appear on the party candidate list. Those who refused found their names left off the list.
Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors limited the participation of women. Following the July 30 elections, women filled six of 21 cabinet minister positions, an increase from 2013, but well below their 52 percent share of the population and well below the equal representation required by the constitution. Women headed the Ministry of Defense and War Veterans and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts, and Recreation for the first time in the country’s history. Women held six of 12 minister of state positions and six of 13 deputy minister positions. Women made up 31 percent of the National Assembly and Senate, down from 34 percent in 2013. On September 12, the Senate elected a woman as president. In accordance with the constitution, female members of parliament filled all 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. At the local government level, women held approximately 19 percent of councilor positions nationwide.
Four female presidential candidates competed in the July 30 election: former vice president Joice Mujuru of the People’s Rainbow Coalition, former deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe of the MDC-T, Melbah Dzapasi of the #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, and Violet Mariyacha of United Democratic Movement. NGOs noted that young women were mostly excluded from decision-making structures and processes in all political parties.
The law permits blind persons to have an individual with them to assist them in marking their ballots. The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) helped provide for handicapped accessibility at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during the July elections. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance–including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons–to have an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. According to ZESN, 45 percent of polling stations had at least 26 assisted voters.