Geneva, Switzerland

15 May 2024

I want to greet you, honourable guests of this important Summit for Human Rights and Democracy from all four corners of the world.

I am Job Sikhala, the surviving political prisoner from Zimbabwe. I am a prominent lawyer and was an opposition member of Parliament before my incarceration. On June 14, 2022, I was arrested for representing Moreblessing Ali, a single mother & opposition political activist who was brutally murdered. They cut her body into three pieces and dumped it into a deep well. By the time we finally found her body, she was decomposed. And for taking on her family’s legal case, I endured 595 days of pre-trial incarceration at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

It is disheartening to disclose sad moments of traumatic experiences one has walked through in life as it gives persecutors the satisfaction of their evil deeds.

I am just one in thousands of victims of persecution in Zimbabwe.

My arrest was nothing more than political persecution. In my political career spanning almost 3 decades, I’ve been arrested 68 times. In nearly all of those cases, I was always found innocent.

But on June 14, 2022, when I was 49 years old, with a wife and 11 children at home (yes, 11!), I was arrested and thrown into prison. This time around, they refused to release me on bail. It was the only way Zimbabwe’s corrupt regime could effectively manipulate the 2023 elections and stop me from contesting them.

For 595 days, the state held me in pre-trial incarceration. They’d yet to convict me of a crime, and still, they kept me caged in solitary confinement day and night, always in chains. I was denied food and visits from relatives, colleagues, and friends. Access to reading materials and prayers from a religious leader of my choice. I am a lawyer; I know my rights. I know how corrupt and cruel Zimbabwe’s regime can be. Still, I was shocked. I had to seek multiple court orders to assert my rights.

When I became sick with severe diarrhoea and vomiting, they denied me the medical doctor of my choice. When I got sick for the second time and was passing heavy blood, they kept me chained to a hospital bed for the entirety of my treatment, despite being on a sleeping dose.

The regime made me face five trials. They blackmailed my initial legal team, led by Beatrice Mtetwa, to stop them from representing me. They threatened my lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, by pointing a gun to his forehead. In the end, the state denied me legal representation on the commencement of my trial when my lawyers Jeremiah Bamu and Harrison Nkomo were attending other cases in the superior courts, and the court proceeded with my trial. Endless postponements to the conclusion of my cases was the order of the day to just keep me in their caged solitary confinement.

They procured two convictions against me. One from a law that does not even exist!! They insulted my character, labelling me an “unrepentant and incongruent criminal.” And bail rulings pronounced me guilty before the trial even started. “Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply to anyone who dares to stand up to Mnangagwa’s corrupt regime.

While I was in prison, they destroyed my legal practice, I founded my office looted, and my furniture scattered in different locations. Mnangagwa’s regime systematically destroyed me politically, socially, and economically. I came out and found everything ruined.

And they didn’t stop there. Moreblessing, Ali’s family refused to bury her body until my release. We were all extremely emotional when the day finally arrived. But they unleashed a drunken mob of disrupters onto her burial to sing obscenities against me and disrupted the funeral, and no one was arrested up to date. Imagine that your beloved daughter and mother have been brutally murdered and cut into pieces, and you can’t even hold a private or respectful funeral to bury her.

My family also became a victim of persecution. My beloved wife, Ellen, was unjustly arrested for a spurious road traffic offence. They convicted her and confiscated her driver’s license to prevent her from bringing me food in prison. Her driver’s licence has not yet been returned by the regime up to date.

And it’s not just my family. Everyone associated with me has been persecuted. Six University of Zimbabwe students, Emmanuel Sitima, Darlington Chigwena, Comfort Mpofu, Benjamin Watadza, Gamuchirai Chaburumunda, and Lionel Madamombe, were arrested for demanding my release. They were denied bail, missed their university exams, and were denied to contest the university of Zimbabwe students’ leadership elections.

Once more, I want to thank these brave students, my wife, my children, and everyone in Zimbabwe and from around the world who stood with me during this difficult period.

My persecution reflects the suffering of countless Zimbabweans. Many have endured torture, brutality, arrests, disappearances, and death for resisting our oppressors. Millions have fled persecution and embarked on an exodus into the Diaspora. There is nowhere in the world where you won’t find a Zimbabwean. So many desperately want to come home to live in a free & democratic society. But that time has not yet come. Pastor Tapfumaneyi Masaya was abducted and found dead.Takudzwa Ngadziore abducted, tortured, and left for dead. Makomborero Haruzivishe had to jump the borders to the UK, running away from persecution. These are just a few of thousands of cases happening in my country. The state procured a fake conviction against Jacob Ngarivhume, and he spent ten months in prison.

In fact, my persecution marked the closure of democratic space in Zimbabwe. Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda and members of the ruling Zanu-PF party have obliterated our multi-party democracy. They’ve pushed opposition members of parliament out of Parliament and banned their activities.

In July 2023, they passed “The Patriotic Act,” a new, repressive legislation curtailing freedom of speech and association. According to Mnangagwa’s corrupt regime, I am committing a crime just by standing here & talking to you today and giving the testimony of what they did to me. I could be arrested again when I returned home for the facts and the truth I am telling you here.

They plan to pass the Private Voluntary Organizations Bill this year, which would give the Registrar unchecked authority to block pro-democracy and human rights organizations. They target the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and like-minded organisations who protect the vulnerable in society.

The regime has systematically destroyed the right to education and the right to demonstrate and petition. As I speak, sixteen teachers from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union, including their President Obert Masaraure, face criminal charges for exercising their legitimate, peaceful, and constitutional rights to petition the government. These teachers, who make a mere $270 per month as all other civil servants, just wanted an increased wage. Now, they’re accused of promoting public violence, bigotry, and breaches of peace.

Tertiary education is reserved for the children of privileged elites who’ve looted our country of every resource. Skyrocketing tuition fees have led numerous students to drop out. They find themselves on the streets, educated but unemployed, succumbing to drug addiction, and facing the grim prospect of incarceration. For nearly two years, I shared my pain with many young men and women who’d been accused of taking drugs and were left to rot in prison. Our young people can not imagine a better future.

To make matters worse, Southern Africa now faces one of the worst droughts in history because of climate change. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, and Malawi are all in desperate need of aid.

In the past, Zimbabwe’s regime used to distribute foreign aid along party lines, rewarding their supporters with food and starving the opposition. We pray that our citizens won’t face the same fate this time.

I urge the world to provide food aid to Zimbabwe. We will vigilantly watch for any discrimination in the distribution of food relief based on political affiliation.

Silence in the face of unjustified persecution is acquiescence to evil. Just as the world united against apartheid South Africa, today, we must stand together against the harassment, false imprisonment, torture, and murder of all innocent human rights advocates, no matter where they live

That’s why I’m here today. That’s why we launched the National Democratic Working Group (NDWG) in Zimbabwe. We’re a coalition of different constituency groups. I serve as its chairman and facilitator, and our goal is to engage Zimbabweans in this national governance crisis. Together, I am confident that we will pave the way for a free & democratic Zimbabwe. I hope you will support us.
May the Almighty God bless all of you.
Thank you