US, EU warn against Zimbabwe using coronavirus for crackdown

The United States and European Union on Friday warned Zimbabwe against using the coronavirus pandemic to crush dissent.

“COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to restrict citizens’ fundamental freedoms,” their ambassadors said in a joint statement marking the second anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s taking office.

The authorities have arrested several opposition activists and government critics in recent months, including opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono.

Ngarivhume was arrested after he announced protests to denounce state corruption and Chin’ono for tweeting his support for the protests, which were subsequently banned on the grounds of coronavirus restrictions.

The statement said “necessary discussions” about Zimbabwe’s future had been “hindered by unhelpful rhetoric and blame assigned to several groups including diplomatic missions and non-state actors”.

In June, the ruling ZANU-PF party called the US ambassador Brian Nichols “a thug” after he criticised authorities over the arrests of government critics.

“We ask the government to move away from such language and instead to deliver on its long-promised reforms and reach across the divides,” the ambassadors said.

Mnangagwa was sworn in on August 26, 2018 after disputed elections held eight months after long-time autocrat Robert Mugabe was tossed out of office.

Mnangagwa has vowed to improve the economy and seek foreign investment to improve public services.

But inflation has shot to more than 800 percent and the UN says more than two-thirds of the population are food insecure. (AFP)

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