Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. On July 30, the country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. While the pre-election period saw increased democratic space, numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excess use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results. On August 26, the chief justice swore in Mnangagwa as president with the constitutional authority to complete a five-year term, scheduled to end in 2023. The election resulted in the formation of a ZANU-PF-led government with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included arbitrary killings, government-targeted abductions, and arbitrary arrests; torture; harsh prison conditions; criminal libel; censorship; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; ineffective government response towards violence against women; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct.
The government took limited steps toward potential consequences for security-sector officials and nongovernment actors who committed human rights violations, including appointing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the post-election violence. In December the COI found the military and police culpable for the deaths of six protestors, but it did not identify individual perpetrators, units, or commanders. Impunity remained a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were two reported incidents of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. On August 1, the military killed six unarmed protestors when it responded to an opposition-led election related demonstration in Harare’s central business district (CBD). A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) killed two civilians on February 22 while enforcing a ban on vendors and unlicensed taxi drivers in the CBD. Security-sector forces participated in political violence in the post-election period during the month of August. Security-sector impunity for politically motivated abuses remained a problem.
Impunity for past politically motivated violence also remained a problem. Investigations continued of prior years’ cases of violence resulting in death committed by security forces and ZANU-PF supporters, but by year’s end there were no arrests or charges in these cases.
Unwillingness to acknowledge past atrocities or seek justice for victims continued to affect relations between the Shona and Ndebele ethnic groups negatively.
There were no reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but government officials failed to do so. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were reports security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of officials affiliated with the government. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces assaulted and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year, police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. Political opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated security forces arrested, detained, and tortured them after the July 30 election.
Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture. Reported torture methods included beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, sjamboks (a heavy whip), and falanga (beating the soles of the feet).
According to one NGO, from January through August, 367 victims of organized violence and torture sought medical treatment and counseling after sustaining injuries in multiple incidents across the country. The NGO reported ZANU-PF supporters committed 35 percent of the violations, ZRP committed 31 percent, and the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) committed 22 percent. Nearly 39 percent of the cases occurred in the capital, Harare. The majority of victims, more than 51 percent, associated themselves with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance. More than 39 percent did not indicate their political affiliation. The other roughly 10 percent were associated with other smaller independent political parties.
From August 1 to 7, uniformed soldiers systematically assaulted civilians in the Harare CBD and suburbs of Chitungwiza, Highfield, Kuwadzana, Seke, and Warren Park, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and local NGOs. The soldiers accused many of the victims of participating in the August 1 opposition-led protests.
There were also reports of short-term abductions during this same period during which victims were abused. Victims in several Harare suburbs reported assaults and hours-long interrogations in remote locations regarding opposition members’ whereabouts. For example, according to NGO and local news accounts, plain-clothed state security agents abducted MDC Alliance Information and Public Secretary Simbarashe Mujeye and his brother from their Chitungwiza home on August 2. Mujeye claimed the agents handcuffed and beat him while demanding to know the whereabouts of senior MDC leaders. The men then took Mujeye to Harare Central Police station on charges of inciting public violence related to the August 1 protests.
According to a local NGO, from January to June, 23 victims of organized violence and torture sought assistance after security agents found them mining illegally at the Chiadzwa diamond mine in Manicaland Province. Victims reported security forces detained them at torture bases, beat them with sticks, kicked them, and sometimes allowed security dogs to attack them.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh due to financial constraints and overcrowding in some of the older facilities. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) struggled to provide adequate food and sanitary conditions and worked with community organizations to help address these issues. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities. The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities, as well as allows churches and other organizations to teach life skills training.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. There were approximately 17,000 prisoners, spread across 46 main prisons and 26 satellite prisons. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that overcrowding continued, due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs. In March President Mnangagwa granted amnesty to approximately 3,000 prisoners, including most women and all juveniles, to address overcrowding.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported that the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic. Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs have observed during the past several years.
NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided women guards. Women generally received more food from their families than did male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of women inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed some supplies such as sanitary pads for women. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.
There was one juvenile prison housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together. Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there is only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.
According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions.
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses thrived in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.
Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. Due to financial constraints, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The inspections and audit unit of the ZPCS, intended to assess prison conditions and improve monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of such assessments. The ZHRC continued to conduct monitoring visits. There was no prison ombudsman, but there were statutory mechanisms to allow alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Prisoners and detainees had relatively unrestricted access to visitors, except in maximum-security prisons, where remoteness hampered access by prisoners’ relatives. The ZPCS afforded prisoners the opportunity to practice their chosen religion. NGOs reported prisoners had sufficient access to chaplains and most prisons offered minority religious services as well.
Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. All organizations working in prisons reported that meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weakened these prohibitions. The government enforced security laws in conflict with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested large numbers of persons during antigovernment protests.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The constitution provides for a National Security Council (NSC) composed of the president, vice president, and selected ministers and members of the security services. The NSC never met, however. Instead, the Joint Operations Command, an informal administrative body, discharged the functions of the NSC at national, provincial, and district levels. All security-sector chiefs reported directly to the president, who is the commander in chief of all security services.
The ZRP is responsible for maintaining internal law and order. The Department of Immigration and the ZRP, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although the ZRP is officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some ZRP roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces under the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes deployed them as a back-up to police as a show of force. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the Vice President, is responsible for internal and external security.
The military-assisted government transition in November 2017 weakened the ZRP as an institution. In January the government forcibly retired 11 senior ZRP officials and reassigned dozens more in March.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, neither did the government have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. For example, the government has not held accountable the ZRP officers who killed two civilians during a protest in Harare on February 22. Likewise, the government has not established an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these rights. The law requires authorities to inform a person at the time of arrest of the reason for the arrest. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides for bail for most accused persons. In 2015 the Constitutional Court declared section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act unconstitutional. According to human rights attorneys, it allowed prosecutors to veto bail decisions made by the courts and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days based on the prosecution’s stated intent to appeal bail. Despite the Constitutional Court ruling against section 121(3), the government amended the law by including provisions that allow prosecutors a veto over judicial bail decisions. Prosecutors relied on the provisions to extend the detention of opposition political activists.
Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. An indigent detainee may apply to the government for an attorney in criminal cases, but these requests only apply in capital cases. This occurred with cases involving opposition party members, civil society activists, and ordinary citizens.
The government also monitored, harassed, and intimidated human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients.
On August 8, former finance minister and senior MDC Alliance official Tendai Biti was detained trying to flee Zimbabwe via Zambia and forcibly returned to Harare. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) claimed police denied Biti access to legal counsel. Biti was subsequently charged with inciting post-election violence and unlawfully announcing election results. On December 14, a magistrate dropped the incitement of violence charge. His trial for violating electoral law continued at year’s end. Additionally, ZLHR claimed police assaulted Biti’s lawyer and deliberately prevented him from accompanying Biti to Harare Central Police station on August 9.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. There were NGO and media reports that security forces arbitrarily arrested political and civil society activists and then released them without charge. On July 13, police arbitrarily arrested three MDC Alliance members when they attempted to observe postal voting at a police camp in Mutare citing trespassing and violation of the electoral act. A magistrate later declined to charge them. Similarly, prosecutors declined to charge three Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) members in Gweru who police arrested for demonstrating against government economic measures on October 11.
The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued that they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests. In April 2017, however, a High Court judge ruled that officials could be sued, especially if they acted unlawfully. The case related to the abduction and torture of human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who was held incommunicado by state security officials for 21 days in 2008. On October 5, the High Court ordered the state to pay Mukoko $150,000 in damages.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was limited for nonpolitical prisoners. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, the low capacity of court officials, and a lack of resources. The constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects. Despite this provision, the government routinely opposed bail for political detainees.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail, which remained exorbitant in view of economic conditions in the country. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but executive influence and interference remained a problem. There continued to be instances where the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite being under intense pressure to conform to government policies.
The government often refused to abide by judicial decisions and routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it in civil cases. Judicial corruption was widespread, extending beyond magistrates and judges. For example, NGOs reported senior government officials undermined judicial independence, including by giving farms and homes to judges.
Magistrates heard the vast majority of cases. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were more likely to receive a fair hearing in magistrates’ courts than in higher courts. In higher courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates, particularly rural magistrates, to rule in the government’s favor. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure, including harassment and intimidation. Some urban-based junior magistrates demonstrated a greater degree of independence and granted opposition party members and civil society activists bail against the government’s wishes.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but political pressure and corruption frequently compromised this right. By law, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts did not always respect this right. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Assessors–usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices–in lieu of juries, could be appointed in cases in which conviction of an offense could result in a death penalty or lengthy prison sentence. Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choosing, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases an indigent defendant may apply to have the government provide an attorney, but requests were rarely granted except in capital cases, in which the government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Individuals in civil cases may request free legal assistance from the Legal Resources Foundation or the ZLHR. The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English interpretation was generally available. The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense is also provided for by law but was often lacking.
Authorities sometimes denied attorneys’ access to their clients. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and to confront adverse witnesses. Any person arrested or detained for an alleged offense has the right to remain silent and may not be compelled to confess. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to access all government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Authorities did not always respect these rights.
Conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution bears the burden of proof. The right to appeal both conviction and sentence exists in all cases, and it is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed.
Unlike in normal criminal proceedings, which proceed from investigation to trial within months, in cases of members of political parties or civil society critical of the government, prosecuting agents regularly took abnormally long to submit their cases for trial. In many cases wherein authorities granted bail to government opponents, they did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but instead chose to “proceed by way of summons.” This left the threat of impending prosecution remaining, with the accused person eventually being called to court, only to be informed of further delays. On August 22, a Bindura magistrate ordered the case against MDC Alliance politician Agrippa Mutambara to proceed in this manner after witnesses who accused him of vandalizing a state monument failed to appear in court. The prosecutors and police routinely retained material confiscated from the accused as evidence.
Government officials frequently ignored court orders in such cases, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government.
The public had fair access to the courts of law, particularly the magistrates’ courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, and civil society activists. Authorities held many such individuals for one or two days and released them. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees, and prison authorities arbitrarily denied access to political prisoners. There were reports police beat and physically abused political and civil society activists while they were in detention.
In August and September, police arrested more than 30 individuals affiliated with the MDC Alliance for allegedly inciting public violence through involvement in a protest in which six individuals were shot and killed by security forces. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests. Police released all of these defendants on bail as they await trial.
On January 4, a magistrate court released an American citizen who was arrested in November 2017 and tried on charges of subverting a constitutional government and undermining the authority of and insulting former president Mugabe. The American was held in a maximum-security prison for seven days, and then released on bail with instructions to have very limited social contact. She was ultimately released and allowed to leave the country when the prosecutor failed to present evidence, but the charges remained open.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Civil judicial procedures allow for an independent and impartial judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political influence and intimidation, particularly in cases involving high-ranking government officials, politically connected individuals, or individuals and organizations seeking remedies for violations of human rights.
Lack of judicial and police resources contributed to problems enforcing domestic court orders.
The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land subsequently taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for the delivery of compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the taking of private property, and police generally did not take action against individuals who seized private property without having secured sanction from the state to do so.
Support was uneven and inconsistent for households resettled from the diamond mining grounds of Marange in Chiadzwa to a government-owned agricultural estate outside Mutare. Since 2010, authorities relocated more than 1,800 families. Each household was entitled to receive $1,000 for relocation, although reportedly only a handful received the money. Most of the relocated families had not received compensation of any kind, including agricultural land, while the government classified them as “people with no recognizable legal rights or claim to the land that they are occupying,” stating that their former land became state land, despite customary and traditional rights to the contrary.
Nearly all white commercial farmers reported the government had not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program that began in 2000 (see Section 1.f.).
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect these prohibitions. Early in the year government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF. Through threats and intimidation, local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists also compelled individuals, mostly in rural areas, to contribute money toward ZANU-PF political rallies. On May 16, the High Court ruled that traditional leaders should not interfere in the political process. It further ordered the President of the Chiefs Council, Fortune Charumbira, to retract two statements insisting traditional leaders must support the ruling party in the July elections. Charumbira did not make the retractions and challenged the ruling in court.
Government entities manipulated the distribution of government-provided food aid, agricultural inputs, and access to other government assistance programs such as education assistance to exclude suspected political opposition supporters and to compel support for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF supporters threatened to withhold food aid in constituencies such as Hurungwe, Murehwa, and Gokwe during the run-up to the July 30 elections. For example, Heal Zimbabwe Trust reported that village heads in Hurungwe Ward 9 told their villagers that government-provided maize seed would only be distributed to those citizens who proved they registered to vote and were members of ZANU-PF.
Shortly after President Mnangagwa took office, he announced the government would no longer forcibly displace persons from their homes. In February the government returned Lesbury Estate to tobacco farmer Robert Smart, who was forcibly evicted from his land in June 2017. According to local human rights and humanitarian NGOs, Lesbury Estate was the only land the government returned to its previous owner during the year.
According to the attorney general and Ministry of Lands, beginning in 2000 a description of every white-owned farm in the country was published in state media and the farms effectively became state property. According to the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), after authorities published a description of the property, it was transferred to a politically connected individual at the first available opportunity.
CFU reported since 2000 titleholders who lost their homes or properties–where most of their life earnings were invested–were not compensated. As a result of evictions, there were scores of destitute elderly former farmers and former farm workers.
The government established the Zimbabwe Land Commission in 2015 as a mechanism for dispossessed farmers to claim compensation for seized lands. The CFU reported the commission had functioned as an arbiter in zoning disputes, but it had not provided compensation to any of its claimants.
Estimates by the CFU put the number of remaining white commercial farmers at fewer than 400, although the exact number was unknown. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, and threatened with eviction by farm beneficiaries, unemployed youth, and individuals hired by those standing to benefit.
In January the government announced it would grant white farmers 99-year leases on their remaining land, but the CFU and other NGOs pointed out the leases do not constitute legal property rights that banks would accept as collateral for loans. CFU reports none of its members had received a 99-year lease, citing in part a cumbersome application process set by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement.
In March 2017 officials purporting to represent the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement and police arbitrarily demolished and burned the homes of approximately 200 families on Arnold Farm in Mashonaland Central, reportedly owned by former president Mugabe’s family. Farm residents obtained a High Court order to stop the evictions. Police allegedly told lawyers representing the farm residents that they were acting on the orders of their superiors but did not have a High Court order approving the evictions. Antiriot police ordered residents to leave the farm and destroyed property, attacking those who resisted. In August those who remained reported suspected ZANU-PF youth members trespassed on the property and damaged farming equipment before security guards chased them away.
The law permits the interception and monitoring of any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) in the course of transmission through a telecommunication, postal, or other system in the country. Civil liberties advocates claimed the government used the law to stifle freedom of speech and target political and civil society activists (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
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.