Thu | Apr 25, 2019

Crackdown continues with arrest of labour leader

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2019 | 12:09 AM
In this Monday, January 14 file photo, protesters gather on the streets during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices in Harare, Zimbabwe. 2019 is already a busy year for Internet shutdowns in Africa, with governments ordering cut-offs as soon as a crisis appears. Zimbabwe ordered a ''total Internet shutdown'' in recent days during protests over a dramatic fuel price increase and a resulting deadly crackdown.

Zimbabwe's government intensified its crackdown on dissent yesterday by charging the leader of the country's largest labour organisation with subversion, as the courts ruled that the shutdown of the Internet was illegal.

Zimbabwe police arrested Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and charged him with subversion for his role in organising last week's national strike.

The arrest comes after a week of turmoil. During the strike, some people went on to the streets to protest the government's drastic increase in fuel prices. The government said the demonstrations degenerated into riots, prompting it to launch a sweeping clampdown in which 12 people were killed, according to human-rights organisations. Security forces opened fire on crowds, wounding many bystanders, and went house to house in some neighbourhoods, beating up many men, according to witnesses. More than 600 people were arrested.

The government also imposed an Internet blackout across the country. On Monday, Zimbabwe's High Court ordered the government to restore full Internet to the country. The shutdown of the Internet was illegal because the minister of state for security, who ordered the Internet closure, does not have powers to issue such a directive, said the court ruling. Only President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the authority to make such an order, said the court. Over the weekend, the government restored partial Internet access, but kept a blackout on social media apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. The government alleges the Internet has been used to organise violent demonstrations.

Zimbabwe's capital gingerly recovered from the week of tumult on Monday. Most shops and businesses reopened, although many people are stocking up on food items in case of further unrest.

Mnangagwa was expected to return to the country late yesterday, after announcing Sunday that he would skip attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was in Kazakhstan, after visiting Russia last week, where he met with President Vladimir Putin to ask for a loan.

Indicating the severity of Zimbabwe's economic problems, South Africa confirmed that it turned down Mnangagwa's request for a loan of $1.2 billion recently. "We just don't have that kind of money," South African Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane told the broadcaster, eNCA.