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Zimbabwe churches call for independent probe into abductions

by ZimLive
18 Sep 2019 at 06:49hrs | Views
The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) on Tuesday warned that citizens are facing "the highest level of vulnerability" because of a failure by authorities to investigate and punish crimes against rights activists and trade union leaders.

The ZCC said it had noted reports of at least 20 abductions in recent months but "none of the reported cases of abduction and torture have been successfully investigated and prosecuted."

Hundreds of doctors protested for a second day in Harare and Bulawayo on Tuesday over the disappearance of their union leader Dr Peter Magombeyi, with riot police stopping doctors from the United Bulawayo Hospitals from marching into the city.

Specialist doctors working at government hospitals have called for an urgent meeting at Parireyatwa Group of Hospitals on Wednesday morning.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has blamed a "third force" for Magombeyi's disappearance, while denying responsibility.

"The situation is disturbing because there is a government communication suggesting that there is a possibility of a third force. Apart from it being too coincidental that this third hand is only targeting civil society activists and other dissenting voices, it is worrying that after so many reported cases, not a single person has been arrested," the ZCC, a grouping of over two dozen churches, said in a statement.

The ZCC said it was concerned by what it described as "fragile relationships" in the security sector "that have only worsened" following the November 2017 coup that propelled Mnangagwa to the presidency.

"If that is the case, the church leaders are worried that the politicisation of the security sector in the context of deep intra and inter party fragmentation puts the whole nation at high levels of security risk," the churches said.

The ZCC called on Mnangagwa to come out and condemn Magombeyi's abduction. The churches also want an independent investigation into dozens of abductions since the start of the year.

Magombeyi, the acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), was an organiser of an ongoing strike to demand higher wages for state doctors because of soaring living costs, before he disappeared on Saturday night.

ZHDA represents mainly junior doctors at public hospitals.

Colleagues say he left home in Budiriro, a suburb of Harare, last Saturday evening saying he was going to church but sent a message to a doctors' WhatsApp group at 10.19PM on the same day saying he was being abducted by three men. His phone became unavailable shortly after and he has not been heard from ever since.

Magombeyi's disappearance is being blamed on Zimbabwe's notoriously politicised security services attempting to break the doctors' strike, which disrupted hospital healthcare services.

A High Court judge on Monday ordered the ministers of police and state security and the heads of intelligence and police to investigate Magombeyi's disappearance and report their progress to his lawyers and the court.

Magombeyi's sister filed a court application to force government to do everything possible to find her brother.

Police are investigating, spokesman Paul Nyathi said.

The Information Ministry said on Tuesday that Health Minister Obadiah Moyo had briefed Cabinet about Magombeyi's abduction which it said fits into a "growing trend of incidents of this nature… appearing to be calculated to tarnish the image of the country."

"We wish to assure the nation that the government is deeply concerned with the threat to the safety of its citizens and is determined to investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to book," the ministry said in a post-Cabinet briefing.

Rights groups accuse the government of abducting activists in the lead-up to planned opposition protests last month, when government also denied responsibility.

Mnangagwa's government said it will not use excessive force against protesters after being criticised over its heavy-handed response to post-election protests last year and protests over fuel price hikes this year.

Doctors marched from the United Bulawayo Hospitals but were blocked by riot police before they could reach town. Prayer vigils were held at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo Central Hospital on Tuesday night.

Doctors have vowed they will not work until Magombeyi is released by his captors.

Two years after Mnangagwa and the army conspired to oust Robert Mugabe, people are suffering from triple-digit price rises and shortages of basic goods including fuel.

Mnangagwa's government promised salary increases to public sector workers, but many say they are insufficient.

Diplomats are expressing growing concern over the apparent impunity enjoyed by Zimbabwe's security services.

"Calling on the government to do everything it can to find Dr Peter Magombeyi who has not been seen since Saturday, and bring the perpetrators to account," British ambassador Melanie Robinson tweeted.

Source - ZimLive

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