Amnesty demands answers from President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe over abduction of journalist and activist Itai Dzamara

Amnesty International on Sunday demanded answers from the administration of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa five years after Zimbabwean journalist and pro-democracy activist, Itai Dzamara, was abducted in Harare and vanished.

Zimbabwean journalist and pro-democracy activist, Itai Dzamara, was abducted in Harare and vanished. 
Zimbabwean journalist and pro-democracy activist, Itai Dzamara, was abducted in Harare and vanished.

Dzamara, a well-known journalist, activist and vocal critic of Robert Mugabe, was getting a haircut at a barbershop in the suburb of Glen View in Harare on March 9, 2015, when five armed men abducted him. He has not been seen since.

Mugabe died in September last year. The Zimbabwean revolutionary and politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017 was deposed by the military following street protests he was unable to crush.

President Robert Mugabe

He was replaced by President Mnangagwa who promised democracy and respect for human rights to Zimbabweans. However, Amnesty International says under his leadership, Zimbabwe remains a dangerous place to criticize the government.

“Security forces routinely use repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act to prevent people from carrying out peaceful protests and voicing their criticism.

“Government critics have increasingly faced harassment and intimidation under president Mnangagwa’s administration, including being charged with trumped-up treason charges, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

Amnesty International called on the Mnangagwa government to set up an independent judge-led Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances around the abduction of Itai Dzamara, with powers to subpoena witnesses.

“The findings of any inquiry must be made public and those suspected to be responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials. Members of the public with information to contribute to the Commission through submissions must also be allowed to do so,” it said in a statement received by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa inspects the guard of honour during his inauguration ceremony at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. Zimbabwe on Sunday inaugurated a president for the second time in nine months as a country recently jubilant over the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe is now largely subdued by renewed harassment of the opposition and a bitterly disputed election. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Amnesty International said it received a copy of “a heart-wrenching letter” from Dzamara’s wife Sheffra appealing to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to help find her husband.

In the letter, Sheffra described the pain of raising her two children alone.

“Imagine not being able to tell your children if their father is alive or dead. Someone knows where Itai Dzamara is, but they have chosen to subject his family to five long years of uncertainty,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

“Today we join Itai’s family in calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to conduct a thorough, independent, effective and transparent investigation into his disappearance. People do not simply vanish into thin air. We need to see an inquiry with findings that are made public, and suspected perpetrators brought to justice, as well as an end to the harassment and intimidation of activists and critics in Zimbabwe.”

Amnesty said before he disappeared Itai Dzamara had been repeatedly harassed and beaten up by Zimbabwe’s security forces, adding that it believes he has been forcibly disappeared as a result of his activism and outspoken criticism of the government.

The human rights organization said Itai Dzamara was abducted on 9 March 2015 by five men while he was at a barbers’ shop in Harare’s Glen View suburb. His abductors are said to have accused him of stealing cattle before handcuffing him, forcing him into a white truck with concealed number plates and driving off. He has not been seen since then, and there are fears for his safety.

The well-known activist had campaigned to improve accountability in Zimbabwe, and had called for former President Robert Mugabe to step down and criticized his handling of Zimbabwe’s economy. Mugabe had been in power for almost four decades, until he was removed from office in 2017 by the ruling ZANU-PF with the help of the army.

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Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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