a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were reports of police shooting civilians while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown measures.
There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. 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
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that police, civilian intelligence, and military intelligence officers engaged in such practices with impunity. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assaults on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects, including the use of torture while in police custody. Police and military officers used violence to enforce COVID-19 lockdown measures, to disperse peaceful demonstrations, and to disrupt informal trading.
Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution. Investigations into violence from previous years remained pending, including into state-sponsored violence that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in 2019 and seven civilians in postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in those cases. During the year a court awarded minor damages to one individual injured by a stray bullet in 2018. The respondents, however, were appealing the case. Other cases remained pending.
Human rights groups reported government agents perpetrated physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members in recent years, including sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and heavy whips (sjamboks); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; oral chemical poisoning; and pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin. On November 29, Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency CEO Doug Munatsi died in a house fire. Several media outlets reported that his remains showed signs of torture. Police indicated they would investigate the fire as possible arson. Various newspaper and social media sources, suspecting foul play, called for swift and transparent investigations into the cause of death.
During government-mandated lockdowns due to COVID-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distancing. NGOs reported police officers assaulted, raped, and arrested with impunity residents who crossed into the poorly demarcated Marange diamond mines.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and among the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, physical mistreatment of prisoners, lack of access to personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners. NGOs reported the use of excessive force but noted prison guards did not employ excessive force systematically. There were reports in September that prodemocracy activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was repeatedly strangled in his sleep by fellow inmates at Harare Central Prison, although he survived.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.
The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS), responsible for maintaining prisons, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society, did not provide adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or personal protective equipment during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.
Detainees depended on family members for essential dietary needs. Those without family or community support were forced to rely on other detainees for survival, although in recent years prisoners identified as malnourished have received additional meals. If available at all, blankets and clothing were often unwashed and soiled. Lice were a common problem. Although detainees could be transported to hospitals for medical treatment, unsanitary conditions and cold winters led to severe and sometimes fatal medical conditions. Detainees who were denied bail were often held in severely overcrowded remand cells for multiple years while awaiting trial.
were an estimated 2.4 percent of all prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. Female inmates reported violence and sexual abuse. Despite support from NGOs, prison distribution of menstrual hygiene supplies was limited. Women often lacked access to pre- and postnatal care and emergency obstetric services. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received 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. Although the law stipulates juveniles should be sent to reformatory homes, authorities generally sent juveniles to prison as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles were vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners. In June the ZPCS opened a female prison for 30 inmates in Marondera that permits home visits to see minor children after serving half of a prison sentence. ZPCS stated this prison would accommodate up to 500 inmates at full capacity.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held with other 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. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April 2020 to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, NGOs, contacts, and several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August 2020. In April the ZPCS Harare province commander announced another amnesty release of 400 of an estimated 22,000 prisoners. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were tested only when sent to nonremand prisons.
Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, personal protective equipment, and information about the virus. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding caused by the country’s protracted economic crisis.
The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms while incarcerated in August 2020 (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. 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. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water collection systems.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest 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. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The ZPCS inspections and audit unit, charged with assessing prison conditions and improving monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman.
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. Some organizations working in prisons reported meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weaken these prohibitions. The government’s enforcement of security laws often conflicted with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists, labor leaders, street vendors, and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested individuals during and following antigovernment protests through selective enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.
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 requirements. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. This was not followed consistently. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides that bail be made available for most accused persons. The government amended the law to include provisions that allow prosecutors to veto judicial bail decisions and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days, despite a prior Constitutional Court ruling declaring this power unconstitutional. Prosecutors relied on these provisions to extend the detention of opposition leaders, civil society activists, and labor leaders, some of whom were denied bail for almost two months. In December 2020 youth activist Allan Moyo was arrested and spent 72 days in detention. He was denied bail three times before a court finally granted him bail in February.
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. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients. A destitute detainee may apply to the government for an attorney, but only for capital offenses. Some opposition party members, civil society activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens had limited or no access to their legal counsel.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, attorneys, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. The government commonly used COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to arrest individuals perceived as threats against the government.
In April police arrested an opposition youth leader, Obey Sithole, for alleged criminal nuisance after holding a peaceful demonstration. He was released on bail after four weeks in detention. Police and media reported that security forces arrested political and civil society activists, journalists, labor leaders, and ordinary citizens for their alleged violation of COVID-19 lockdown measures or alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities.
Police selectively enforced COVID-19 safety regulations against opposition parties, civil society, and street vendors while making only modest interventions to prevent ruling party supporters from engaging in rallies and attending large gatherings. Human rights NGOs reported street vendors in urban areas were often targets of arbitrary arrest and allegations of operating illegal businesses. The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests.
Pretrial Detention: Although the constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects, prolonged pretrial detention for government critics, including journalists, ordinary citizens, student activists, and opposition leaders, was common. The government routinely opposed bail for political detainees, and judges generally upheld these motions. Cases involving human rights defenders also involved lengthy pretrial detentions. When judges issued bail rulings, they often delayed announcing their rulings until after the court cashier closed on Fridays to ensure political detainees remained in prison over the weekend. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, and an insufficient number of court officials to hear many cases.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail. 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. Sometimes their parents could not be located or did not have the funds to travel to court. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
Defendants commonly faced prolonged pretrial detention as well as unnecessary hurdles that inconvenience and humiliate the defendant. After being arrested on May 26, New York Times journalist Jeffrey Moyo’s bail check-ins were moved from Harare to Bulawayo, which made compliance more difficult for him and his Harare-based lawyer. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the defendant had to travel in a separate vehicle from his lawyer, increasing the cost of his defense.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government intensified executive influence over the courts and executive interference in court decisions. In May the government amended the constitution to give the president authority to appoint senior justices without public interviews and extend the term of the chief justice beyond the mandatory retirement age stipulated in the original constitution. Prior to the amendment’s passage, Supreme and High Court judges issued an anonymous letter expressing concerns regarding the chief justice’s interference in their judgments. Many viewed the chief justice as biased in favor of the ruling party, citing his ruling against the leading opposition party when it challenged the results of the 2018 general election. In September the Constitutional Court overturned a High Court decision that would have blocked the extension. As a result the chief justice was to remain head of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts for another five years until his 75th birthday, well beyond the general election scheduled for 2023. Although the constitution includes safeguards against changing term limits for incumbents, the Constitutional Court’s decision makes it easier for parliament to pass additional constitutional amendments to extend term limits for other key positions, and the September decision further disempowers lower courts to rule on constitutional matters, setting a precedent that their rulings cannot be enforced until reviewed by the Constitutional Court.
At times the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite intense pressure to conform to government directives. The government, however, often dismissed justices who resisted executive pressure. In June the president fired High Court Justice Erica Ndewere for “gross incompetence” after she refused to take instructions to deny bail to an opposition politician.
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. NGOs reported senior government officials gave homes, farms, agricultural machinery, and other perks to numerous judges as part of its corrupt Command Agriculture program.
NGOs reported that the president of the High Court often routed cases involving human rights defenders to specific anticorruption magistrates in the lower courts even if the cases were unrelated to corruption. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were less likely to receive a fair hearing from magistrates, who heard most cases, than from higher courts. In lower courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates to rule in the government’s favor, particularly in rural areas. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure from high-ranking judges and officials of the ruling party, including harassment and intimidation.
Certain high court justices made seemingly independent rulings and granted opposition party members and civil society activists’ bail. Some observers, however, believed the decisions in those cases were motivated by ruling party infighting rather than judicial independence.
There were reports that judges or magistrates failed to recuse themselves from politically charged cases. In July the deputy chief justice and numerous Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges refused to recuse themselves from proceedings involving the chief justice despite having been directly supervised by him. In September a Harare magistrate refused to recuse herself from a case involving a high-profile journalist and human rights activist after making earlier statements insinuating the defendant’s guilt.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but corruption and executive control over the judiciary increasingly compromised this right. By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts often did not respect this right, with government and ruling party officials using social media to imply guilt ahead of a court ruling in politically charged cases. 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. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were usually open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Government officials liberally interpreted state security matters to include trials and hearings for defendants who protested the government or reported on government corruption. In cases where conviction could result in a death penalty or a lengthy prison sentence, assessors – usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices – could be appointed in lieu of juries.
In the case of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, acquitted of the charge of publishing falsehoods by retweeting a video of police allegedly killing a baby, Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi reportedly filed with the High Court to challenge his acquittal. Government officials asserted they appealed Chin’ono’s acquittal to the Supreme Court, which delayed the hearing and release from bail until February 2022 to allow for the government’s appeal. Chin’ono said he had not seen evidence an appeal was ever sent to the Supreme Court.
Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choice, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases, a destitute 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 Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English and Ndebele-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. 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. Authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities sometimes denied or significantly delayed attorneys’ access to their clients or falsely claimed the attorneys’ clients were being held at another facility. There were also cases where authorities used COVID-19 regulations to deny attorneys timely access to their clients.
Government officials sometimes ignored court orders, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government. Lower courts commonly denied bail based on previous arrests, including for defendants never convicted of an offense.
The public generally had access to the courts of law, particularly magistrate courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas and arbitrary rules about notetaking during hearings.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, civil society activists, and labor leaders. Authorities sometimes detained such individuals for one or two days and released them without charge. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees. There were reports police beat and physically abused political activists and journalists while they were in detention.
Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which move from investigation to trial within months, prosecutors regularly took abnormally long to submit cases involving members of the political opposition or civil society critics of the government for trial. Hearings were sometimes scheduled when presiding judges were on vacation. Prosecutors in political cases were often “unprepared to proceed” and received numerous extensions. When authorities granted bail to government opponents, they often did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but 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. Magistrates sometimes delayed making case records available to deliberately delay appeals for bail in the High Court.
In 2020 opposition members, including Member of Parliament Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova, reported security agents abducted them from police custody after their arrest for participating in a demonstration. The three women sustained severe injuries from alleged physical, sexual, and mental abuse. The three were released, but after they reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. After being again released, on February 1, police arrested them a third time for peacefully demonstrating and a fourth time on March 5 while they were calling for the release of youth activist Makomborero Haruzivishe. On April 22, Mamombe fell ill and was rushed to the hospital with acute stomach pain. On May 5, a justice granted them bail. On July 12, a prosecutor, however, attempted to bypass a pending High Court decision on a stay of trial. On September 3, Mamombe was rearrested for her tardiness in a routine appearance at the police station as part of her conditions of bail, but she was later released to continue her bail. On November 2, a court charged Mamombe with trespassing but failed to provide her with documents to prepare for her trial. The court instructed her to reappear on December 8.
In March a court sentenced Haruzivishe to prison for inciting violence and resisting arrest. Authorities said the 28-year-old blew a whistle to alert opposition protesters to pounce on police during a protest in February 2020 and that he incited violence in a protest demanding the government provide more support to the poor. ZHLR, which represented Haruzivishe during his trial, said only circumstantial evidence was used to convict him of inciting violence and resisting arrest. While outside the courthouse during Haruzivishe’s trial, one journalist witnessed indiscriminate police brutality against his supporters. As part of Haruzivishe’s appeal to the High Court, he sued the magistrate to correct two allegedly inaccurate statements in the court transcript.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to take adverse action against specific individuals or groups for politically motivated purposes.
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, and individuals and organizations seeking remedies for abuses of human rights.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for providing compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not act against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorization from the state to do so.
Most commercial farmers reported the government had still not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program in the early 2000s. In 2020 the government, the Commercial Farmers Union, and other farmers’ groups signed a $3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. In June the government made a one-million-dollar token payment to commercial farmers but delayed additional compensation payments until 2022. Despite the negotiated agreement, government officials continued to seize farms without compensation as recently as September 2020.
The Commercial Farmers Union estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, threatened with eviction, and evicted by unemployed youth and individuals hired by politically connected individuals standing to benefit from farm seizures.
High-level Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) officials, meanwhile, registered numerous farms in the names of family members to evade the government’s policy of one farm per official. In September 2020 Anxious Masuka, the minister of lands, agriculture, water, and rural resettlement, stated the country had no more farmland to distribute to the applicants on the land application list. As a result, Masuka said the ministry planned to reallocate land to prospective farmers from farmers with multiple farm plots or those who were underutilizing the land.
The government continued to allow individuals aligned with top officials to seize land not designated for acquisition and the media commonly cites high-level government officials possessing large farm holdings. The government began a comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately, but as of year’s end, the commission had not completed the exercise.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect this right. Throughout 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.
The law permits intercepting or monitoring any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) transmitted 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.).