In the wake of deadly protests against a fuel price hike, and an ongoing internet shutdown in Zimbabwe, the United Nations has urged the government to stop “excessive use of force” by security forces including firing live ammunition.
The government has said three people died during demonstrations that broke out on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150 percent.
Lawyers and activists say the toll was much higher and that security forces used violence and carried out mass arrests to quell the unrest.
READ MORE: Here’s a recap of Zimbabwe’s 3 days of deadly protests
The total shutdown of the internet is simply to enable crimes against humanity.
The internet was cut off earlier this week, with critics saying the government sought to prevent images of its heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters from being broadcast around the world.
Leading mobile operator Econet Wireless said the government had ordered it to shut down services.
“We were served with another directive for total shutdown of the internet until further notice,” Econet said in a statement. “Our lawyers advised that we are required to comply with the directive pending the court’s decision on its legality.”
Friday’s fuller internet shutdown also affected emails.
Due to the shutdown, Harare banks were providing only partial services and no cash machines were working, a Reuters witness said, while long queues formed at petrol stations and shops.
UN condemns crackdown on protesters
In Geneva, The U.N. human rights office called on the government to stop the crackdown and denounced allegations of “generalised intimidation and harassment” of protesters.
Ravina Shamdasani, U.N. human rights spokeswoman, denounced allegations of “generalised intimidation and harassment” by security forces in night-time door-to-door searches, beatings by police and the shutting down of Internet and social media.
“Doctors’ associations say more than 60 people were treated in hospital for gunshot wounds, this is not way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population,” she said.
Britain summons ambassador
Britain summoned the UK Zimbabwean ambassador on Thursday to express its deep concern at unrest that has left three people dead and many injured.
Minister of State for Africa Harriett Baldwin said she had watched with growing concern both the behaviour of some protesters and reports that security forces had used excessive violence.
“While we condemn the violent behaviour of some protestors, and unlawful acts such as arson and looting, we are deeply concerned that Zimbabwe’s security forces have acted disproportionately in response,” she said in a statement.
Britain called on the government of its former colony to ensure the armed forces acted professionally and to restore full Internet access in the country.
“The UK government calls on Zimbabwe to ensure its security forces act professionally, proportionately and at all times with respect for human life,” the statement said.
Activist group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it was representing more than 130 people arrested following the protests.
They include activist pastor Evan Mawarire, who appeared in court on Friday for magistrates to rule if he has a case to answer on charges of subverting the government.
Mawarire, who rose to prominence as a critic of Mugabe and led a national protest in 2016, was tried and acquitted on similar charges in 2017. He faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday after encouraging Zimbabweans in social media posts to heed a strike call from unions.
The politics of the protests
As life returned to a semblance of normality in Harare, civilians ventured outside to stock up on food and other supplies while police continued to patrol the streets.
Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, said he feared the web blackout was a prelude to more violence.
“The total shutdown of the internet is simply to enable crimes against humanity,” he told Reuters. “The world must quickly step in to remove this blanket of darkness that has been put on the country.”
Authorities have yet to respond to the allegations of a crackdown, but many Zimbabweans believe Mnangagwa is falling back on the tactics of his predecessor Robert Mugabe by using intimidation to crush dissent.
The president has also failed to make good on pre-election pledges to kick-start the ailing economy – beset by high inflation and a currency shortage, and the trigger for this week’s protests.