“Some people I spoke to had a consistent story who said they were in their homes when armed men with masks on, in plain clothes armed with AK-47s, bashed down their doors, grabbed them, pulled them out into the street, beat them, and then threw them in the back of trucks,” said Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer who spoke to several people who had been arrested at the police station, many who had injuries.
The abuses took place just two days after Zimbabweans first took to the streets in protests over the 200 per cent increase in fuel prices. It also comes as Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is in Switzerland in an effort to try and drum up financial support for his government.
The Herald, Zimbabwe’s state newspaper, reported that Mnangagwa told potential foreign investors in Moscow earlier this week that private property would be respected.
“Let me reassure you that all foreign investments are safe in Zimbabwe and my administration guarantees the protection of private property rights,” the Herald reported on Thursday.
One doctor, a member of Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights who did not want to be identified, said that many of the people he saw had been visited by armed men in their homes and being beaten, sometimes shot.
“People are being maimed and killed, the beatings are quite arbitrary,” said the Harare-based doctor.
“The most severe forms of injuries that we have received are those of gunshots and stab wounds at the hands of the security forces,” he said, adding that while some had been protesting, others were going about their business.
“We’ve seen the police forces brutalizing people in the street, but we’ve never seen this kind of use of ammunition, use of machetes and things like that,” he added.
‘Sinister operation’ by soldiers in civilian clothing
Lawyer Coltart, who is also a member of the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, said that one of his clients had been abducted by armed men in civilian clothes and taken to the police station. The police station was overrun by soldiers, according to Coltart’s account, and the troops were manning the boom barrier at the entrance, controlling vehicle access.
“Some of them were in uniform, about 15 were not in uniform. Some were wearing camouflage, some even had balaclavas. These soldiers took total control of the police station,” he said.
“It’s deeply concerning. It does seem like there’s a sinister operation going on, soldiers being involved in things they should never be involved in. And the fact they are doing so in masks and civilian clothing makes it all the more sinister,” Coltart told RFI.
He said that in Zimbabwe, the army may be deployed by the president to assist the police to maintain law and order, but the president must inform parliament first, which he has not done. Mnangagwa is still out of the country, attending the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland.
“It seems clear from the way these operations are going that that is not the case. These soldiers are operating rogue, outside of the police command structure,” he said.
Mnangagwa told Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the state-run television station, that a country cannot "have their security (forces) go to sleep when shops are being looted."
For the Zimbabwean doctor, the actions of security forces and the government go against what Mnangagwa and others had been saying about the new government.
“It’s shocking that the government is preaching peace and encouraging people to express themselves and criticize what they’re doing, and then show this level of brutality and repression,” he said.