Zimbabwe army, cops face 'brutality' lawsuit over January protests
Zimbabwe's security forces face a class action lawsuit brought by 16 people who accuse police and soldiers of beating and torturing them during the protests in January sparked by the fuel price hike.
The group is being represented by the nongovernmental organisation Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), which gave formal notice of the legal claim last month.
The notice was sent to home affairs minister Cain Mathema, defence and war veterans affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, and the police commissioner-general, Godwin Matanga.
AMOUNT YET TO BE DECIDED
Once such a notice has been issued, respondents have 60 days in which to reply - giving Matanga and the two ministers a deadline of May 6.
Lawyers for the claimants said this week they had yet to quantify the damages they are seeking.
Roselyn Hanzi, executive director of ZLHR, said this week the NGO had taken on the case as part of efforts "to protect citizens from arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment by security forces. The severity of the violations makes this a classic case."
In the past, ZLHR has successfully sued both the army and police for brutality. Prominent cases include those of activists Cynthia Manjoro, who was awarded $18,075 for unlawful arrest and wrongful prosecution in 2011, and Lynette Mudehwe, who was awarded $6,000 for unlawful arrest and assault in January 2016.
COURTS WILLING TO ACT
In October last year, the high court awarded human rights activist Jestina Mukoko $150,000 in compensation following her abduction and arrest in 2008 by state security agents. Mukoko confirmed that the state had paid her the money.
But Manjoro said on Friday she was fighting with government officials over what currency she would be paid in.
"Last week, they indicated that they wanted to pay me in RTGS [real-time gross settlement] dollars, yet the high court specifies payment in US dollars," she said.
Manjoro said the government was citing a legal statute to support its intention to pay her in RTGS dollars or bond notes. "My lawyers are now handling the issue."
The 16 claimants in the latest case are: Rodrick Duncan, Muchademba Muponde, Bradley Lola, Brighton Gomo, Edson Banda, Edson Jongwe, Francis Nyaguwa, George Vhelasi, Jonas Kumbani, Jonathan Lula, Nhamo Kamunhukamwe, Paddington Mudzamiri, Prince Mumbiro, Tatenda Mareya, Thomas Mareya and Allen Chawasarira.
According to the legal submissions by ZLHR, Duncan was sitting and eating in the Harare city centre on January 13 when a truckload of soldiers arrived and ordered everyone to lie on the ground.
A second truck arrived carrying more soldiers, who began arresting vendors and touts.
The soldiers assumed Duncan was a tout or a vendor and forced him into one of the trucks. He was taken to Harare Polytechnic College where he was forced to lie on the ground.
"While lying there, he was beaten with baton sticks, barbed wire and razor wire from the waist down to his feet for about 25 minutes," the ZLHR papers said.
"He sustained an injury to his left hand and finger, and could not walk due to the pain. He has been unable to work due to his injuries, and has lost income as a result."
The documents said Muponde had accompanied his grandfather to buy chickens at a Harare shopping centre on January 16.
As he was leaving, a group of soldiers chased people in the vicinity and he also ran away. One of the soldiers caught and assaulted him, and he sustained serious injuries.Other claimants said they had been forcibly removed from medical centres where they were being treated for injuries sustained during earlier assaults by the security forces. Human rights groups estimate that 17 people were killed by security forces during the protests and more than 1,000 were arrested for public violence.The courts convicted a total of 375 people for violations linked to the three-day stayaway, a recent police report showed.MOST CONVICTIONSThe report said most of the convictions - 225 - were in Bulawayo, the second-largest city.There were 69 convictions in Harare, 27 in Mashonaland West, 19 in Manicaland, 14 in Mashonaland Central, six in Midlands and three each in Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North. The only province in which there were no convictions was Masvingo.Human rights activist David Coltart, an opposition politician, said the class action was the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.