More than 600 protesters have been arrested in Zimbabwe, as State security agents unleashed a crackdown on citizens who participated in protests. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Harare ‑ More than 600 protesters have been arrested in Zimbabwe, as State security agents unleashed a violent crackdown on citizens who participated in the protests that rocked have the country since Monday.

Violent protests were sparked by the government's astronomical fuel price hike that saw diesel going up from US$1,24 to $3,11, and petrol rising to $3,31 from US$1,34.

Pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of #ThisFlag, was among the hundreds who were locked up. The pastor who called for the shutdown was picked up from his Harare home by armed policemen.

Apart from Mawarire, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and social movements all called for a stay-away starting Monday and ending Wednesday.

MDC national organising secretary Amos Chibaya was also arrested. He was nabbed when he visited arrested party members at Gweru Central Police Station some 275 km south-west of the capital, Harare.

The protests started on Monday and since then state security agents have used heavy-handed means to crush dissent. They have been seen going door-to-door in residential areas across the country. 

People suspected of involvement in the protests have been interrogated and sjamboked in public.

Videos of uniformed policemen dragging people from their houses before beating them in full view of other residents have gone viral. Policemen have also been filmed forcing suspects to roll in sewage.

Reports indicate that as many as nine people have been killed since the protests started. Many others have suffered gunshot wounds, but the government move to shut down the internet and WhatsApp has made it difficult to verify the figures.

However, doctors say 68 people were treated for gunshot wounds, 17 of whom underwent emergency surgery.

The ruling Zanu-PF has accused their nemesis, the MDC Alliance, of “orchestrating terror”, but an investigating officer in a case where bus owned by the state was torched, revealed in court papers that eight Zanu PF activists had burnt it and destroyed property in a residential area.

State Security Minister Owen Ncube said: “The prevailing security situation in the country is a culmination of a well-orchestrated series of events by the MDC Alliance, working in cahoots with NGOs, civic society, youth organisations, pressure groups and individuals”. 

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Zimbabwe Chapter (Misa-Zimbabwe) on Wednesday filed an urgent chamber application challenging the suspension of internet services by service providers following a directive issued by the state security minister.

In the application, ZLHR and Misa-Zimbabwe, represented by Denford Halimani, argued that the internet blockade was a violation of citizens’ fundamental rights including access to information enshrined in section 61 of the Constitution.

African News Agency (ANA)