A soldier walks past a burning barricade in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Johannesburg - Amnesty International has called on the Zimbabwean authorities to act swiftly to ensure security forces are held to account for "ongoing brutal human rights violations, including torture, rape, beatings, and killings of civilians as the crackdown continues" against last week’s trade union protest stay-away.

Dozens of civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders, and suspected organisers of the national protests against a massive increase in fuel prices had gone into hiding, fearing for their lives, Amnesty International regional director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said in a statement.

"At least 12 people have been killed and dozens more injured by the security forces since protests began on 14 January. Up to 700 people, including minors, have been detained after being arrested on trumped-up charges or brought before courts in hearings that do not meet fair trial standards. Hundreds have been denied bail," Muchena said.

“The onslaught by the security forces in Zimbabwe has seen people killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, reportedly raped and jailed on suspicion of taking part in the protests. Children as young as 11 years old have been detained on frivolous charges.

“The Zimbabwean authorities must immediately halt their menacing threats towards civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders, and suspected organisers of protests. The authorities must ensure that those who violated and continue to violate human rights face justice,” Muchena said.

Amnesty International had documented a systematic pattern of human rights violations, including restrictions on public assembly, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, and internet shutdown by the security forces throughout the national stay-away.

The call for people to stay at home and not report for work was prompted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of a 150 percent increase in fuel prices on January 12. An uneasy calm had since returned to Zimbabwe following days of disruptions to businesses because of the crackdown, Muchena said.

“A Zimbabwe that is prosperous and based on the rule of law will never be built by brutalising dissent. The authorities must immediately stop this merciless crackdown on activists, civil society leaders, and others who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their right to freedom of expression. President Mnangagwa has called on all Zimbabweans to come together during this difficult moment. That must include respecting human rights,” said Muchena.

African News Agency (ANA)