A victim of police and army brutality during the fuel price hike protests seeks treatment at a clinic in Harare. EPA-EFE African News Agency (ANA)
HARARE - A crackdown last week on protests in Zimbabwe is a foretaste of how the government will respond to future unrest, the president’s spokesperson said, his statement fuelling concerns that the country is reverting to authoritarian rule.

The UN has criticized the manner security forces have handled the protests. “The bottom line is that the use of live ammunition by security forces was excessive,” UN human rights office spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasan, said. “This is not the way to react to expression of economic grievances by the population,” the envoy said.

Police say three people died during protests over fuel price hikes in Harare’s capital and second city Bulawayo that turned violent, but human rights groups say evidence suggests at least a dozen people were killed while scores were treated for gunshot wounds.

“(The) government will not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently. The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come,” said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba.

Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper the government would review some provisions of the constitution adopted in 2013, which he said were being abused by proponents of democracy.

Lawyers and activists say hundreds of Zimbabweans were detained last week accused of public order offences, including at least four lawmakers from the opposition MDC party and Evan Mawarire, a pastor who rose to prominence as a critic of former leader Robert Mugabe and led a national shutdown in 2016.

Local rights groups say security forces, accused of night raids at homes of suspected protesters, are now trying to find people in hiding. A partial internet blackout was still in force yesterday, two days after mobile networks sent messages to customers saying they had been ordered to keep social media sites shut until further notice.

When he was elected in July, Mnangagwa promised a clean break with the 37-year rule of Mugabe, who used the security forces to quell civilian protests before being forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017.

However, the MDC says former Mugabe ally Mnangagwa is now overseeing a reversion to authoritarian rule by using the same tactic.

Charamba, on an official trip with Mnangagwa to Azerbaijan, said the MDC leadership and affiliate organisations would be “held fully accountable for the violence and the looting”. The MDC denies fomenting unrest. 

Reuters African News Agency (ANA) CAJ News