The United Nations (UN) has expressed concern over reports that Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Government has been hiding behind the current Covid19 national lockdown to trample on people’s democratic rights such as freedom of association while stifling dissent.

Spokesperson for the the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, roundly castigated the recent arrest of hard-hitting investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono in a police blitzkrieg targeting opposition activists last Monday.

Throssell said ‘merely calling for a peaceful protest or participating in a peaceful protest are an exercise of recognized human rights’.

“We are concerned at allegations in Zimbabwe, which suggest that the authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” Throssell said in a statement on Friday.

“Among the latest incidents, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested on 20 July and charged with inciting public violence, after he tweeted his support for nationwide protests against government corruption and worsening economic conditions.

Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition leader who has been calling for the protests on 31 July, was also detained and similarly charged,” she wrote.

Throssell also castigated alleged police brutality in the southern African country particularly the recent beatings of striking nurses and other medical staffers calling for better working conditions and salaries to sustain their livelihoods.

“We are concerned at reports of police using force to disperse and arrest nurses and health workers for infringing lockdown restrictions as they were trying to protest for better salaries and conditions of work,” partly reads the statement.

The UN also touched on the issue of the allegedly abducted three opposition MDC Alliance female youth leaders, including a serving MP, who were reported to have been sexually abused by their captors before being dumped, in bad shape, at Muchapondwa Business Centre in Bindura.

“This pattern of intimidation echoes the events in May when three members of the main opposition party were arbitrarily arrested and detained for taking part in a protest,” said the Swizz-based organisation.

Added the UN:

“The women – Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – alleged that state agents abducted them from the police station, tortured and sexually assaulted them. The women were then formally arrested in June, charged with participating in the protests and faking their abduction. They were recently released on bail’.

Throssell also said that it was clear that the Covid19 pandemic had compounded to the problems Zimbabwe is facing.

“While recognizing the Government’s efforts to contain the pandemic, it is important to remind the authorities that any lockdown measures and restrictions should be necessary, proportionate and time-limited, and enforced humanely without resorting to unnecessary or excessive force,” she quipped.

“We encourage the Government to engage with civil society and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to grievances while ensuring that people’s rights and freedoms are protected in accordance with Zimbabwe’s human rights obligations. These include the responsibility of the State to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights”.

She further said despite Harare interdicting large gatherings to contain Covid19, ‘any lockdown measures and restrictions should be necessary, proportionate and time-limited, and enforced humanely without resorting to unnecessary or excessive force’.

Zimbabwe is on the brink of plunging into political turmoil as her nationals have vowed to take to the streets and speak out against alleged excesses of the government.