More asylum removals to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – despite an upsurge in arrests

Britain will resume enforcing the return of refused asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, the government has said, after judges ruled earlier this week there was no evidence that those being returned would generally be at risk of harm.

Tim Hancock is the campaigns director of Amnesty International UK

Britain will resume enforcing the return of refused asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, the government has said, after judges ruled earlier this week there was no evidence that those being returned would generally be at risk of harm.


Mr Justice Blake, president of the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, said there was now:

“…significantly less politically-motivated violence in Zimbabwe.”

Yet over the last few weeks the human rights situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated, particularly for human rights activists.

A court in Bulawayo reportedly denied bail on Wednesday for Vikas Mavhudzi, who is facing charges of subversion over a comment he made on prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Facebook page. He was arrested on February 24th and charged with “subverting a constitutional government”, after expressing his approval of the recent protests in Egypt:

“I am overwhelmed… What happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

Amnesty has also documented a recent upsurge in arrests of human rights activists, some of whom have allegedly been tortured while in the custody of the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

In Harare on March 9th, ZRP officers unlawfully detained Abel Chikomo, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. He was held for several hours and released without charge; then, on March 10th, officers from the Law and Order Section arrived at his office demanding to see him and in his absence instructed that he must report to the police station because he had ‘questions to answer’.

On February 28th, seven members of the campaigning organisations Women of Zimbabwe Arise and Men of Zimbabwe Arise were arbitrarily arrested in Bulawayo, detained for two days and allegedly tortured while in the custody of the Law and Order section at Bulawayo Central police station.

A group of 45 activists were also arrested in Harare on February 19th after attending a lecture to discuss events in Egypt and Tunisia. They were charged with treason. One of the detainees told the court that he and other activists had been tortured while in detention. Thirty nine of the activists were freed by the court on March 7th.

There are various possible reasons for the upsurge in repression. Past political processes in Zimbabwe since 2000 have been marred by increased violence and repression and there is talk of a possible election in 2011, though this now looks unlikely as certain benchmarks have not been met. The referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for June; and the authorities appear to be keen to suppress any potential activity from civil society inspired by the Middle East and North Africa crisis.

In early February, defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa went so far as to issue a pre-emptive warning when he reportedly stated:

“Those who may want to emulate what happened in Egypt and Tunisia will regret. Everybody is warned to keep peace in the country.”

The UK Border Agency’s decision to resume removals of refused Zimbabwean asylum-seekers is premature. Any decision to remove people must focus, first and foremost, on the human rights situation on the ground in Zimbabwe.

Looking at the current situation, one might feel that more consideration is being given to the political situation in the UK.

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6 Responses to “More asylum removals to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – despite an upsurge in arrests”

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