R2K urges SA to break silence on Zimbabwe rights crisis
The call was made in an open letter to Nkoana-Mashabane on Friday which also voiced “deep concern” over police arresting journalists‚ the alleged extortion of motorists and a clampdown on the use of social media.
Activists staged a one-day stay-away this week in Zimbabwe in protest against the economic policies of President Robert Mugabe‚ restrictions imposed in the importation of goods‚ non-payment of salaries to civil servants and government corruption
South Africa’s government has not been too vocal about events unfolding across the border‚ according to some critics.
The stay-away – promoted on social media under the hashtag #ZimShutDown2016 - saw uprisings on the streets of urban centres‚ including Chitungwiza‚ Mutare‚ Bulawayo‚ Harare‚ Kwekwe‚ Gweru and Victoria Falls.
R2K said in its open letter that a range of gross human rights abuses were reported during the stay away‚ including:
Police brutality against protestors;
Police harassment and extortion of taxi drivers and the recently increased spot fines imposed at road blocks;
Arrests of protestors and journalists who were recording police abuses;
An apparent localised “shutdown” of the WhatsApp messaging service on Wednesday morning; and
A public notice by the Zimbabwean telecommunications regulator‚ POTRAZ‚ to the effect that social media users suspected of distributing “subversive” messages will be identified‚ disconnected and “dealt with according to the national interest”.
“The apparent suspension of WhatsApp services comes at a time when internet shutdowns are an increasingly common tactic by governments facing political crisis and citizen action‚” said the letter.
“In 2015‚ global digital rights activists recorded 15 such shutdowns across the world. Between January and June 2016‚ there had been at least 20 such shutdowns. This is an unacceptable violation of citizens' right to free expression. We also note that the apparent suspension of WhatsApp in Zimbabwe on 6 July happens just days after South Africa opposed a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that recognises people's right to internet access and online free speech‚” the letter said.
South Africa’s Constitution enshrined the right to privacy and free expression and the country was a signatory to UN and AU covenants protecting the right to privacy and freedom of expression‚ it said.
“It is therefore imperative that diplomatic channels be pursued to uphold the rule of law on the continent‚ and take all steps in its power to address the deteriorating political and socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe and the region.
“We call on you as Minister of International Relations and Cooperation to condemn these anti-democratic abuses and take all possible measures to pressure the Zimbabwean government to end these abuses and protect Zimbabweans' right to political participation‚ protest and dissent‚” said the letter.