By Professor Mutodzi
Harare, May 10, 2016 – FIREBRAND rights activists Philip Mugadza and Patson Dzamara were arrested on Monday when they joined a group of Harare activists who gathered at Africa Unity Square to commemorate exactly 14 months since the abduction of pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara.
Mugadza is a Kariba based pastor who rose to prominence when he staged a one man protest in Victoria Falls December last to alert President Robert Mugabe about the negative effects of his dictatorial leadership.
Patson, on the other hand, has come to be known as a prominent rights defender after he has led a media campaign for the release of his brother and other activists who were abducted in the past years without trace.
Together with other fearless Harare based activists, the pair has led demonstrations against dictatorship and rights abuses.
One such occasion was their Monday prayer meeting which they had convened in central Harare, leading to their arrests.
The pair was later released without any charge after being taken to a police base in Harare’s First Street.
Unlike in the past, anti-riot police refrained from beating up the defiant protesters who were also joined by Harare clergyman Bishop Ancelimo Magaya.
Narrating the incident after their release, Dzamara remained defiant, saying the group will never relent in demanding for the release of Itai Dzamara and many other abducted activists.
“Ladies and gentleman, there is nothing more powerful than an idea that has come,” Dzamara said in a statement.
“The time of change has come and Mugabe together with his minions can’t do anything about it.
“The first step towards the change we have been yearning for is for us to demystify what Mugabe has used to truncate the voices and wishes of the people – the police.
“Today what I witnessed is a good step in the right direction.”
Dzamara continued: “Covered and guided by the constitution, we must engage in lawful means in order to demystify this perception that the police is all-powerful.
“That’s our first port of call as we march into the new Zimbabwe. We can’t grow tired as yet …until we get through.
“Our country needs us and we need you to join us as we prepare the ground for a new Zimbabwe.”
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which has stood for victims of police brutality and other state sponsored rights abuses, on Monday condemned the arrest of Mugadza and Dzamara.
“ZLHR is concerned that the intimidation of relatives of the disappeared Dzamara could jeopardise attempts to stamp out impunity and urges the government to bring those responsible for the assault of Patson to justice and to protect those who are witnesses of human rights violations,” said the ZLHR while referring to Dzamara’s brutal assault on independence day when he has staged a one man demonstration in front of President Mugabe.
The rights group further demanded the release of other victims of enforced disappearances among them Patrick Nabanyama and Paul Chizuze, who both disappeared on different occasions.
“Each day these human rights defenders remain missing and unaccounted for is a disgrace and brings shame on President Robert Mugabe’s administration,” said ZLHR.
“The government must take steps to ensure that Dzamara, Nabanyama and Chizuze are located and released immediately in accordance with the requirements of international law.
“The government must establish an independent and impartial body to investigate these abductions and enforced disappearances, which have become routine in Zimbabwe and prosecute those responsible, regardless of their status or official capacity and provide effective remedies and reparation to all victims pursuant to its national, regional and international legal obligations.
“The only way to stop this cycle of enforced disappearances is to put an end to the impunity of perpetrators, and send a clear signal that human rights excesses are unacceptable,” said ZLHR.
The group also called on the Zimbabwean government to enact laws that criminalise enforced disappearances.