New Zimbabwe Home Office Policy Note 2017: Protestors, Demonstrators and Social Media Resistance Focused

It had been obvious for at least two years,  that the Country Information Report of  October 2014  no longer  reflected the up-to-date  political situation for the purposes  of considering  asylum  claims from Zimbabweans.  My  blog post,  Zimbabwean Asylum Claimants And The New Political Movement: Are The Home Office & Tribunal “Getting it?”  of 24 August 2016, summarized the position in its opening  paragraph as follows:

 

There clearly is a new protest political movement emerging   in Zimbabwe  being  propelled substantially  by  social media. Where this continues  in the long term ( if not  suppressed ),  and where  claimants associated with such movements seek protection in the UK,  then   current rigid   UK  asylum country  guidance caselaw, CM (EM country guidance; disclosure) Zimbabwe CG [2013] UKUT 59 (IAC),   becomes increasingly  redundant……………. Clearly, the  guidance  in CM is  largely  inapplicable  and unsuited to claimants associated with the new movement(s)  seeking protection in the UK……The  Home Office and the Tribunal need to appreciate  that  it  is now no longer simply   just about  being a member of the  MDC and having a political  profile  associated with said party, nor just about war  veterans and militia bashing the opposition. Some new country guidance caselaw may be in order in an appropriate case if  the current Zimbabwean  regime remains in power and if  the  current movement continues”.

Those more familiar with   recent events  in Zimbabwe,  in particular  the frenzied  social media resistance and  protest demonstrations  of  2016,   will note  that the newly published  Country Information and Policy Note Zimbabwe: Opposition to the government Version 2.0e January 2017 also notes  the following among other  events:

 

  • The expulsion of the then Vice President Joice Mujuru in December 2014 from ZANU(PF) and the subsequent emergence of her political party, People First;

  • The abduction in March 2015 of Itai Dzamara, a journalist and activist who had called for President Mugabe to resign;

  • Protesting of social movements such as the National Vendors Union;

  • Emergence of the #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag social campaign in 2016;

  • Protests against failure by the government to account for the missing $15 billion in diamond revenue;

  • The attempt by the Zimbabwean government to clamp down on social media;

  • Organization of a ‘stay-at-home’ protest billed as the biggest strike in Zimbabwe since 2007;

  • The incarceration of Linda Masarira.

 

The new Policy Note summarises  that actual or perceived involvement in political opposition activities includes: members or supporters of political parties, protestors, journalists, civil society activists and teachers.

 

The Policy note also refers to the relevant country  guidance caselaw  of CM (EM country guidance; disclosure) Zimbabwe, heard  on October 2012 and promulgated January 2013, (which modified the Country Guidance in of EM & others (Returnees) Zimbabwe, heard on October 2010/January 2011 and promulgated March 2011). In CM, the  Upper Tribunal concluded that as a general matter, there is significantly less politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe compared with the situation considered by the AIT in RN (Returnees) Zimbabwe, heard September/October 2008 and promulgated November 2008.  In particular, the evidence does not show that, as a general matter, the return of a failed asylum seeker from the United Kingdom, having no significant MDC profile, would result in that person facing a real risk of having to demonstrate loyalty to ZANU-PF.

 

The Police Notes also deals with risk issues in  relation to actual or perceived involvement in political opposition activities as set out below.

 

The MDC now less of a political force  than when CM was heard

 

As provided for by paragraphs 2.2.6; 2.2.7; 4.1.2 and 5.1.2 of the Policy Note:

 

  • The situation in Zimbabwe has changed since CM was promulgated in 2013. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) splintered again in 2014/15, boycotted every by-election in 2015 and is less of a political force than it was when EM and CM were heard. A person’s MDC profile may no longer be seen as having a relevant significance as the party has changed considerably following its splits and identity changes. The largest MDC faction, the MDC-Tsvangirai(MDC-T), remains the main opposition party.

  • The MDC-T has splintered and is currently less of a threat to the ZANU-PF.

 

Emergence of People First as a political party

 

As provided for by paragraphs 2.2.7;4.3.6; 5.1.2; 5.7.1; 5.7.2; 6.4.2 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • In December 2014, then Vice President Joice Mujuru was purged and her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, elevated.

  • Joice Mujuru, who was replaced as vice president in December 2014 and expelled from ZANU-PF, emerged as the leader of a breakaway faction, People First, during 2015. The party itself would largely be comprised of former-ZANU-PF members, including many purged from the party during 2014 and 2015. Joice Mujuru established People First on 11 February 2016.

  • The largest MDC faction, the MDC-T, remains the main opposition party and some of its members, along with those of the new political party – People First, lead by the former ZANU-PF vice president, Joice Mujuru – have been subject to harassment, discrimination, arbitrary arrest, abduction and physical abuse.

  • Mujuru’s nascent People First (PF) formation remains an unknown quantity, reportedly flirting with parties across the political spectrum.

  • Former ruling party elites and those involved in the political struggle to succeed long time president Robert Mugabe reported receiving threats or being subjected to surveillance by the Central Intelligence Office (CIO) during 2015. CIO agents were said to be watching the movements of current and former ZANU-PF elites on behalf of Mnangagwa, a former CIO chief and presidential aspirant. The CIO also continued to threaten opposition leaders.

 

Demonstrators and emergence of Social Media inspired protests:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 2.2.11; 2.2.12; 3.1.4; 5.9.1; 5.9.2; 7.1.3; 7.1.9; 7.1.10; 7.1.5; 7.1.6; 7.1.7; 6.2.5 and  6.2.6 of the  Policy Note:

 

  • Demonstrations about the government’s mismanagement of the economy are seen by the authorities as politically motivated even though people without strong political views are taking part, many having been inspired by social media groups. The police sometimes use excessive force to disperse demonstrators and people have been arrested under public order offences, but are generally released within a few days, although there have been reports of longer detentions

  • It is unlikely that someone will be at risk on return purely for having taken part of the demonstration. Those organising a demonstration may be at risk, however, if the government perceives them to be a political agitator, although this will depend on their profile, activities and past experiences with the authorities.

  • People who took part in the protests against the government’s management of the economy may have been fired upon, arrested or experienced other heavy-handed treatment by the police during the demonstrations. However, it is not likely that the authorities would have a continuing adverse interest in the person merely because of their presence at a protest. Each case must be considered on its own facts and merits.

  • Since May 2016, a flurry of citizen or civil activism movements have been rising and spreading, and are calling for much yearned social, political and economic change – areas where they believe standard opposition politics have not delivered as hoped. The country has been rocked by two peaceful campaigns known as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka – both of which have vowed to protest until Mugabe steps down.

  • Spokesperson for Tajamuka, Promise Mkwnanzi, said it is a non-violent campaign looking to hold Mugabe’s government accountable for socio-economic and political challenges plaguing Zimbabwe but is also believes the veteran leader must relinquish power. Tajamuka is comprised of 14 political parties that fully subscribe to the idea of the campaign, and more than 30 civil society organisations and youth pressure groups.

  • ACLED [Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project], in its Zimbabwe October 2016 update, noted: The number of political violence and protest events increased over the past month in Zimbabwe. The spike in violence is largely due to an increase in the incidence of violence against civilians, which doubled between August and September: This spike in violence against civilians comes after months of upheaval against the Mugabe regime by protesters from various pressure groups. Protesting against the regime is a mixture of organised political opposition, unions and seemingly spontaneous social movements.

  • The #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag campaign represent examples of popular movements which have protested against the government on the street and online.

  • #ThisFlag seems to function as an avenue by which ordinary Zimbabweans can demonstrate their grievances against the government with the group’s leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire, calling for Zimbabweans to engage in passive strikes and stayaways to make their voices heard. In contrast, the #Tajamuka campaign is focused on forcing Mugabe to step down before the 2018 elections and has been engaged in active protests and riots in Harare and Bulawayo.

  • Protesting with these social movements is the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) which is also demanding an end to Mugabe’s administration.

  • The spokesperson of the #Tajamuka campaign and the leader NAVUZ have both been abducted and tortured by unidentified men suspected to be security agents. The manner in which these individuals were targeted echoes the disappearance of Itai Dzamara, who led a protest against the Mugabe regime and is yet to be found. This sends a clear message to those orchestrating the anti-Mugabe protests that they can also be made to disappear altogether if necessary.

  • The ruling party uses state institutions as well as violence and intimidation to punish opposition politicians, their supporters, and critical political activists. Itai Dzamara, a journalist and activist who had called for Mugabe to resign, was abducted in March 2015, allegedly by government agents. The authorities denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, and he remained missing at year’s end.

  • Catching onto citizens’ increasing online engagement, government officials regularly decried the destabilizing effects of social media and reportedly blocked access to WhatsApp for several hours during the July 2016 protests. Meanwhile, several individuals were arrested for online activities throughout the year, including Pastor Evan Mawarire for his videos on social media that the authorities perceived as inciting public violence, as well as several ordinary users for their WhatsApp messages that criticized aging President Mugabe.

  • The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, in its third quarterly review for 2016, stated that 1568 cases of political violence were recorded during the quarter: The violence surge observed during the quarter was mainly associated with demonstrations against deteriorating socio-economic and political conditions in the country, resulting in state-sponsored violence through attacks on peaceful demonstrations by riot police. Key violence episodes were linked to police violent repressions of peaceful demonstrations and attacks of participants at MDC-T and Zimbabwe People First rallies by ZANU PF youths. An unnerving characteristic of the violations was abductions. It further noted that ‘over 600 citizens were arbitrarily arrested nationwide following social unrest in the country.

  • The DFAT, in their 2016 report noted that ‘reliable sources inform DFAT that the ZRP is a highly partisan force: Top police commanders are appointed, and expected to support ZANU-PF; political affiliation can impact on the effectiveness of police investigations, particularly in cases involving criminal and political violence; and ZRP personnel regularly use the POSA to restrict freedom of assembly and expression in support of ZANU-PF interests. The same source also noted, ‘There are regular and credible reports of ZRP personnel using excessive force to disperse demonstrators and when making arrests. There are regular and credible reports of ZRP personnel using excessive force to disperse demonstrators and when making arrests.

 

The Zimbabwean economy – protestors and demonstrators:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 7.2.1; 7.2.2; 7.2.3; 7.2.4; 7.2.5 and 7.2.6 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • Freedom of assembly is limited, though protests do occur. POSA requires police permission for public meetings and demonstrations, allows police to impose arbitrary curfews, and forbids criticism of the president. In 2015, a number of assemblies by perceived government opponents were blocked or violently dispersed through the deployment of police and soldiers. Those affected included women’s rights activists, street vendors protesting tighter state regulation, and MDC-T supporters.

  • In June 2016, police began a campaign of politically motivated abuses against activists engaged in countrywide protests against poverty, corruption, rights abuses, and lack of electoral reform. Police resorted to heavy-handed tactics, indiscriminately using water cannons, teargas, and batons to violently crush largely peaceful protests.

  • At various times since June 2016, hundreds of protesters, including student activists, human rights activists, and opposition supporters were arrested, detained, and later released on bail without charge.

  • The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reported on ‘police use of brutal force on protesters’ in July 2016. Although these protests are not specifically politically based they are about the failing economy and the damaging effects of corruption which the government are blamed for.

  • Since the beginning of the year [2016], citizens have been holding protests over the never ending economic crisis exarcerbated by corruption; the disregard of the rule of law; failure by the government to account for the missing $15 billion in diamond revenue; the promulgation of the Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 which bans the importation of certain good and basic products; the alarming number of police roadblocks in all roads in Zimbabwe; lack of public confidence in the consultative structures designed to resolve citizens grievances and concerns; and the failure by the government to pay civil servants and pensioners on time among other issues.

  • The protests reached their peak on Monday 4 July 2016, when public transport operators in Ruwa, Mabvuku, Tafara, and Epworth protested in and around Harare against increased police roadblocks. The police responded by use of teargas and water cannons on the protesters and innocent civilians. In Epworth for example, police moved door to door indiscriminately assaulting citizens. School children were also caught up in the crossfire.

  • Arbitrary arrests and torture of citizens became widespread, with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) estimating that 600 protest-related arrests were made between June and August 2016. A total of 19 journalists were either assaulted or arrested and detained while conducting their lawful and constitutionally protected responsibility of reporting. Over 300 cases of torture were recorded by various civil society organisations. Government violated citizens’ rights to personal security; liberty; freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment; and arbitrary arrests and detention.

  • Social media and the independent press captured human rights violations by the police. Despite the availability of irrefutable image and video evidence of torture perpetrated by police, government remained unresponsive to public concerns on police violence against citizens. Government even went further to attempt to clamp down on social media to stifle generation and public sharing of evidence of police brutality. These rights violations culminated in the deprivation of liberty, injuries, physical and economic displacement. The cross-section of national and international organisations unanimously agreed that the observed levels of police brutality were excessive.

  • Zimbabwe charged people with public violence following violent clashes between protesters and the police.

  • Police fired tear gas and water cannon at opposition leaders and hundreds of demonstrators at protests before unrest swept across large parts of the capital, Harare.

  • Police arrested three people waving banners criticizing 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who is facing rising public anger at the dire state of the economy, in particular shortages of cash and unemployment estimated at over 80 percent.

  • Political activist, Promise Mkwananzi and another man were charged with public violence following a protest by opposition youths on 24 August 2016. Mkwananzi is linked to the social media movement #Tajamuka, which joined forces with the #ThisFlag campaign of pastor Evan Mawarire to organize a ‘stay-at-home’ protest billed as the biggest strike in Zimbabwe since 2007.

  • Since January 2016, the country has witnessed close to 40 civilian led protests. In a bid to silence dissenting voices, police used brute force to quell the protests resulting in several citizens being arbitrarily arrested and injured. Lawyers for Human Rights recorded 600 such arrests during the period. Among the victims were social and political activists; human rights defenders; journalists and citizens who were caught up in the ensuing battles between the police and the protestors. Some of the protestors were denied access to justice spending as much as 82 days in remand prison as in the case of one Linda Masarira. Those that were arrested were subjected to severe torture, degrading and inhuman treatment. During the period a total of 336 cases of torture were recorded.

  • The International Crisis Group (ICG), in a report of 6 October 2016 ‘Confrontation in Zimbabwe Turns Increasingly Violent’, stated: Under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA), eighteen opposition parties including the two most influential, Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), have embarked on a series of protests that state security services are determined to stamp out. On multiple occasions in August and September [2016] police have resorted to tear gas and water cannon to disperse anti-government demonstrations; in late August the police introduced a ban on protests in Harare. They subsequently defied a court ruling overturning the ban by extending it to mid-October.

  • In December 2016 Harare police chief Newbert Saunyama announced that a ban would be imposed on “holding of public demonstrations” for one month, despite the earlier protest ban in Harare being overturned by the courts in late November 2016.

 

Prominent, particularly vocal,  high profile  human rights defenders and members of civil society organisations  considered more at risk:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 2.2.13; 8.1.1; 8.1.3; 8.1.5; 8.1.7; 8.1.8 and  8.1.9 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • The authorities use various legal restrictions to make life difficult for civil society organisations who they perceive as being critical of the government. Despite this, harassment, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance have declined over recent years. It is now likely to be those prominent members with a high profile who are particularly vocal in their criticism of the government who may be at risk of serious harm or persecution.

  •  A March 2016 briefing paper for the Universal Period Review by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Lawyers for Lawyers, Zimbabwe (ZLFL) noted that attacks on human rights’ defenders [HRDs] increase around the time of elections, with a total of 3,629 HRDs subject to arbitrary arrests or malicious prosecution and deprivation of liberty and received legal assistance from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) between January 2012 and December 2015:

  •  A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Such groups were subject to government restrictions, interference, monitoring, confiscation of materials and documentation, and other forms of harassment. Major domestic NGOs included the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, ZLHR, Zimbabwe Peace Project, ZimRights, National Constitutional Assembly, Students Solidarity Trust, and Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise.

  •  The government harassed NGOs it believed would expose abuses by government personnel or which opposed government policies, and it continued to use government-controlled media to disparage and attack human rights groups. Articles typically dismissed the efforts and recommendations of NGOs that criticized the government, and their authors charged that the real NGO agenda was regime change.

  •  Police arrested or detained local NGO members and harassed their leaders, often in connection with NGO meetings or demonstrations.

  •  The Amnesty International Report 2015/16 – The State of the World’s Human Rights’, published in 2016, stated: On 25 July, six civil society activists from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Chitungwiza Residents Trust and the Occupy Africa Unity Square( OAUS) were arrested at Harare Central Remand Prison. They were handed over to the police and charged under Section 5(2) of the Protected Places and Areas Act Chapter 11:12 with failing to comply with a directive from an authorized officer regulating conduct and movement. The six were among about 50 activists who had visited 16 informal traders held on remand after being denied bail.

  • The Human Rights Watch ‘World Report 2016’, published in 2016, stated: ‘Itai Dzamara, a pro-democracy activist and human rights defender, was forcibly disappeared on March 9, 2015. Dzamara, the leader of Occupy Africa Unity Square—a small protest group modelled after the Arab Spring uprisings—had led a number of peaceful protests concerning the deteriorating political and economic environment in Zimbabwe in 2014 and 2015. He had petitioned Mugabe to resign and for reforms to the electoral system. Police ZANU-PF supporters assaulted him on several occasions, including during a peaceful protest in November 2014, when about 20 uniformed police handcuffed and hit him with batons until he lost consciousness. When Kennedy Masiye, his lawyer, tried to intervene, the police beat him up, breaking his arm. Zimbabwe authorities denied any involvement in Dzamara’s abduction, but state authorities have not conducted any meaningful investigation. When Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra Dzamara, approached the high court in Harare to compel state authorities to search for her husband, government officials failed to comply with the court order to report on the investigation’s progress. On April 25, activists organized a car procession to raise awareness about Dzamara’s case. Police arrested 11 activists and detained them for six hours, then released them without charge.

  • The FCO 2016 report noted that the government of Zimbabwe has still not properly investigated the disappearance of political activist Itai Dzamara.

  • The 2016 DFAT report stated that human rights organisations have told DFAT that since 2013 authorities have mostly targeted high-profile human rights advocates through surveillance, arrests and spurious legal proceedings. ZRP personnel assaulted and detained the leaders of the October 2014 ‘Occupy Africa Unity Square’ movement in Harare. The disappearance in March 2015 of Occupy Africa Unity Square leader, Itai Dzamara, is significant given Dzamara’s vehemently anti-Mugabe stance during the protests.

  • The Summary prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21 : Zimbabwe, 23 August 2016 included the following submissions: ‘human rights defenders continued to face harassment, violence, arbitrary arrest and malicious prosecution – [ISHR (International Service for Human Rights)] , human rights defenders, particularly those working on issues of corruption, public accountability and democratic governance, have been subjected to intimidation and harassment by the Central Intelligence Organization.

 

Harassment and intimidation of prominent  members of vendors groups:

 

As provided for by paragraph 8.1.8 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • The Government has also harassed and intimidated prominent members of vendors’ advocacy groups, which have become increasingly vocal in their attacks on the Government for failing to follow through election promises to create millions of new jobs. On 12 July 2015, Municipal Police arrested the Director, Chairperson and other members of the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) in Harare for allegedly defying a Government directive to vacate land they were using for ‘illegal’ markets.

 

Teachers now generally unable to demonstrate  to persecution amounting to  serious  harm:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 2.2.16; 2.2.17; 2.2.18; 10.1.1; 10.1.2 and 10.1.3 of the Policy Note:

 

  • In the country guidance case of CM, the Upper Tribunal found that those who are, or have been, a teacher are at a heightened risk of ill treatment, however, recent country information indicates that the situation has changed considerably for teachers. Violence has reduced and they are now subject only to a low level of official discrimination in the form of job losses, particularly around election time.

  • It is unlikely that a teacher would be able to demonstrate that on return to Zimbabwe they would face persecution amounting to serious harm, but each case must be considered on its individual facts.

  • Political pressure on teachers and academics has eased in recent years, though the state still responds with force to student protests. Prominent academics rank among the government’s most vociferous critics, and some are allowed to operate with little interference. Mugabe serves as the chancellor of all eight state-run universities, and the Ministry of Higher Education supervises education policy at universities. Nevertheless, there is respect for academic freedom in many government institutions.

  • Teachers in Zimbabwe have historically been well-regarded and predominantly middle-class. Since 2000, however, the ruling party has discriminated against teachers because of their actual or perceived support for opposition parties. These perceptions have reportedly emerged because schools have been used to hold political meetings during election periods and because teachers appointed as electoral officers reported cases involving ZANU-PF electoral fraud during national elections from 2000-2008.

  • There has been a significant reduction in the level of official discrimination against teachers since 2008. This discrimination has also changed from overt violence (no teachers have been killed since 2008) to other forms of harassment and intimidation. The authorities reportedly removed several teachers from their positions during the 2013 elections; and police allegedly arrested and assaulted three members of the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe on 4 January 2016. Credible sources have told DFAT this harassment and intimidation is most prominent in Mashonaland East, West and Central, Masvingo, and Manicaland provinces.

  • In January 2017 News Day reported that: The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president, Obert Masaraure, in an interview said Zanu PF had resorted to manipulating desperate teachers through offering “petty financial rewards” to campaign for the party. He said defiant teachers had received threats of violence, as well as displacements from their work stations. “You will know that teachers are not getting their salaries on time and they have become subjects of manipulation. We have also received reports of teachers from Bikita West receiving death threats if they do not campaign for Zanu PF.” Teachers from Zanu PF strongholds, particularly rural constituencies, have often fallen victim to the ruling party’s violence, as they are often blamed for sympathising with the MDC-T.

 

Treatment of Journalists

 

 As provided for by paragraphs 9.1.5; 9.1.9 and  9.1.10 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • Criticizing the government in some cases is also punished extrajudicially, particularly when it involves Mugabe. Journalists are subject to beatings or arrests while reporting on demonstrations.

  • A Reporters Without Borders report, ‘RSF decries Zimbabwean government’s harassment of journalists’, dated 29 July 2016 (updated 1 August 2016), stated: ‘Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the harassment of journalists in recent weeks by President Robert Mugabe’s government and the ruling ZANU-PF party. Journalists have been the targets of intimidation attempts, physical attacks and arrests without justification. The harassment is related to a wave of anti-government protests that began several months ago and were sparked by revelations about the vast sum (more than 700,000 euros) that the state lavished on Mugabe’s 92nd birthday celebrations despite a deep economic crisis.

  • As a result of the growing grass-roots opposition, the authorities are clamping down on all those perceived as possible critics of the government and ZANU-PF – including journalists. The RSF report continued, giving details of individual journalists targeted during June and July 2016 by the government. It also noted that Zimbabwe is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

 

Politicised distribution of food and agricultural products:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 7.3.1; 7.3.2; 7.3.3; 7.3.4; 7.3.5; 7.3.6 ;7.3.7 and  7.3.8 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • The FCO 2016 report, published April 2016, noted ‘the preferential treatment of ruling party supporters in the distribution of food aid’ as an issue of concern in Zimbabwe. However the update of 21 July 2016 stated that the number of incidents of politicised distribution of food aid appears to have reduced in the second quarter of the year.

  • However, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, in its third quarterly review for 2016, stated that during the months of July and August, Heal Zimbabwe recorded a total of 91 cases of unfair food aid distribution. Although partisan distribution of food was recorded in most parts of the country, the most affected provinces were Masvingo, Mashonaland Manicaland and Mashonaland East.

  • Moreover, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, in its October 2016 monthly update, stated that during October, a time when most parts of the country were receiving food aid from the Department of Social Welfare delivered at Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots in some areas, there was reportage of the largest number of food violations. The numbers have increased to 52 cases of unfair food distribution in October from 28, 21, 35 and 37 cases in June, July, August and September, respectively. It is anticipated that as the lean season has set in and Zimbabwe heads towards the 2018 elections and Zanu PF persists with vote buying, the food violations will continue to increase.

  • The long and short of the findings or outcomes of the investigations was that there was unbridled maladministration on the part of some public officials who were allegedly performing their duties partially and with bias against persons of particular political affiliations in contravention of the provisions of the Public Service Regulations SI 1/2000 which requires public officials to be apolitical and discharge their duties impartially and objectively. In all the five districts covered by the investigations, community leaders such as Village Heads, Headmen, Village Secretaries and District Administrators and in the case of Bikita East the Councillors who are all members of the ruling party were alleged to be biased in favour of members of their own party and against members of the opposition whom they told openly that those affiliated to the opposition would never get food aid.

  • In rural areas, ZANU-PF uses its patronage network of village chiefs to manipulate the distribution of government-funded food and agricultural products. There are regular and credible reports of ZANU-PF distributing these goods at party meetings or requiring recipients to possess ZANU-PF identity cards.

  • Government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF. Government entities manipulated the distribution of government-provided food aid, agricultural inputs, and access to other government assistance programs to exclude suspected MDC supporters and to compel support for ZANU-PF.

 

Demolishing of houses:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 7.4.1; 7.4.2; 7.4.3 and  7.4.4 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • Property rights are not respected. In January 2015, police officers demolished the homes of at least 200 families living in an area where Grace Mugabe reportedly planned to create a wildlife sanctuary, although the courts have shown independence in multiple rulings against the interests of the first lady in this venture. The authorities also continued to demolish, without court orders, homes around Harare that were deemed to have been built illegally, affecting thousands of residents.

  • The USSD report covering events in 2015 also noted that the government forcibly displaced persons from their homes.

 

A shift from overt physical violence to more subtle forms of intimidation:

 

As provided for by paragraph 7.1.8 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • The political environment in Zimbabwe remains repressive despite the country experiencing a period of relative calm since general elections in July 2013. This calm is largely attributable to the pervasive threat of the state security apparatus and to the lack of strong political opposition because key opposition groups have splintered. However, the state-sponsored security apparatus remains intact and continues to harass and intimidate civil society organisations, activists and opposition party members.

  • The level of politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe has declined significantly since 2008 as a result of the stabilising effect of the GNU; a deliberate change in tactics by ZANU-PF; and the MDC-T’s loss in the 2013 elections, which fractured and severely weakened the country’s main opposition party. But levels of politically motivated violence fluctuate and appear to have increased in 2015.

  • The MDC-T has splintered twice since 2005 and boycotted every by-election in 2015. In this context, the state-sponsored security apparatus has shifted its focus from overt physical violence to more subtle forms of intimidation. These new tactics include manipulating courts; vote rigging; intimidating journalists and civil society activists; manipulating the distribution of food and agricultural products in rural areas; and using land distribution and housing destructions to establish political and electoral influence.

 

Police abuse and violence targeted against opposition party members:

 

As provided for by paragraphs 7.1.18; 7.5.1; 7.5.3; 7.5.4; 7.6.1; 7.6.3; 7.7.1; 3.1.1 and  6.5.2 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • Human Rights Watch summarised the situation in 2016 as follows:Police abuse increased, and there was excessive use of force to crush dissent. Human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and government opponents, were harassed, threatened or faced arbitrary arrest by police. Widespread impunity continues for abuses by police and state security agents.

  • The USSD report covering events in 2015 stated: ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and abused members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. Although the constitution allows for multiple parties, elements within ZANU-PF and the security forces intimidated and committed abuses against other parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. In contravention of the law, active members of the police and army openly campaigned for and ran as ZANU-PF candidates in the elections.

  • The International Crisis Group report, ‘Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis’, published on 29 February 2016, further noted: The ruling party has invested heavily in recent by-elections. Monitors say campaigns were “characterised by threats, intimidation, physical violence and vote buying”, a familiar carrot and stick combination. Violence was most prevalent in Mliswa’s constituency. Former party insiders caution a weakened ZANU-PF will employ “well known thuggish tactics” when it feels challenged. Several incidents of abduction and assault, including the well-publicised disappearance of activist Itai Dzamara, have sent a clear signal to opponents. ZANU-PF and associates allegedly are the primary perpetrators, but internal division means many victims are now also party members.

  • The International Crisis Group (ICG), in a report of 6 October 2016 ‘Confrontation in Zimbabwe Turns Increasingly Violent’ noted; Reports of abductions and beatings of activists by militias and covert security units have increased significantly and echo previous cycles of resistance and repression.

  •  Regarding the MDC, the DFAT 2016 report stated: Credible sources have told DFAT that MDC-T members are subject to a greater level of official discrimination than members of other opposition parties because of the MDC-T’s status as the country’s main opposition party. This affects senior and low-level party members. Harassment of senior MDC-T party members currently mostly takes the form of legal proceedings targeting their economic interests, such as court proceedings against party Secretary-General Mwonzora.

  • MDC-T members are subjected to occasional violence, mostly from ZANU-PF youths and supporters. The situation in 2016 therefore contrasts with practices in earlier years, when senior members were at greater risk of physical violence. DFAT assesses that all MDC-T members face a moderate level of official discrimination throughout Zimbabwe. MDC-T members and their families also suffer indirectly from the government’s partisan distribution of food and agricultural products, as well as its demolition of illegal households. MDC-T members face a moderate threat of violence from ZANU-PF supporters.

  • According to NGOs, security forces reportedly assaulted and tortured citizens in custody, including perceived opponents of ZANU-PF. In some cases police arrested the victims of violence and charged victims with crimes instead of perpetrators.

  • Human rights groups reported the continuance of physical and psychological torture perpetrated by security agents and ZANU-PF supporters. Reported torture methods included beating victims with sticks, clubs, whips, cables, and sjamboks (a heavy whip); burning; falanga (beating the soles of the feet); use of electric shocks; solitary confinement; and sleep deprivation.

  • ZANU-PF supporters – often with tacit support from police – continued to assault and mistreat scores of persons, including civil society activists and known Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) members and their families, especially in Harare neighborhoods and nearby towns. Violent confrontations between youth groups of the ZANU-PF (known as “Chipangano”) and the MDC-T, or the MDC-Ncube (MDC-N) continued, particularly in urban areas. ZANU-PF supporters were the primary instigators of political violence.

  • The DFAT report noted that ZANU-PF supporters allegedly abducted and violently assaulted six People First supporters in Chitungwiza in December 2015. The New Zimbabwe reported in March 2016 that supporters at a People First rally in Harare were pelted with stones allegedly by ZANU-PF youth members. The DFAT assessed that supporters of People First face a moderate risk of violence from ZANU-PF supporters and a moderate level of official discrimination because of the party’s potentially wide support base.

  • While political parties, civil society and the media continue to operate, the government makes it difficult for these groups to function and tightly controls the space within which people can openly express opposition to, or criticism of, the state.

  • The USSD report covering events in 2015 stated: ZANU-PF trained and deployed youths and war veterans to harass and disrupt the activities of MDC members, labor groups, student movements, civic groups, and journalists considered critical of ZANU-PF.

 

Returnees to Bulawayo or Harare with a significant anti-government profile at risk:

 

As provided for by paragraph 3.1.3 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • Those people returning to Bulawayo or Harare are unlikely to face persecution or serious harm unless they have a significant anti-government profile and are returning to a high density area of Harare.

Bar rural Matebeleland North or Matabeleland South, returnees to rural areas with a high profile at risk :

 

As provided for by paragraph  3.1.2 of the Policy Note:-

 

  • A person returning to rural areas of Zimbabwe (other than rural Matebeleland North or Matabeleland South) with a high profile and who is perceived by the government be critical of it may be subject to treatment amounting to persecution or serious harm. This could include members of the MDC-T, People First and other opposition groups, human rights defenders, members of civil society organisations and journalists. The onus will be on the person to show that their position within a party or organisation or their activities are such that they have come to the adverse attention of the authorities which will place them at risk on return.

 

Conclusion:

 

Apart from CM and EM,  there appears no useful reference to  other relevant current country guidance caselaw in relation to risk on return within the Policy Note.  My blog post,  Valid Passport with the Home Office? Zimbabweans with no claims still very much removable from the UK, of 13 December 2016 also sets out  the history of Zimbabwean country guidance caselaw, inter-woven with  the UK’s  previous  policy of non – removals to Zimbabwe.

Where some of the background evidence itself set out within the Policy Note appears to conflict with the Home office’s position, then other additional current background material can be sourced elsewhere  to drive home the  issue on risk on return as per the particular facts of a claim.

There may be a need by the Upper Tribunal to revisit  the  country guidance case of CM, which may result in a widening, narrowing or removal  of risk categories, however the appropriateness  of this  prior  to  the  2018 elections is questionable.

 

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