Weaponisation of COVID 19 Against Citizens

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) is deeply concerned with the sending of citizens to prisons and police holding cells for minor offences exposing them to the Covid-19 pandemic and also endangering even the Zimbabwe Prison Services workforce. In a statement released by the Police Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, on the 19January 2021, he informed the nation that on Monday 18 January 2021 alone, police had arrested 2336 people for offences related to the contraventions of the Lockdown regulations. Of these 890 had been arrested for unnecessary movement while 920 for failing to wear facemasks. These figures only provide a glimpse into the numbers of Zimbabweans that have been arrested for minor offences including political opposition leaders and human rights defenders held at various police cells while others are in pre-trial incarceration exposing them to the pandemic. ZimRights reminds the government that as stated in its report, Policy Considerations on Covid-19 Measures: Policy Brief II released on 30 May 2020, arrest and detention must only be used as a measure of last resort. ZimRights takes note that while law enforcement remains crucial, a distinction should be drawn between ordinary crime and offences occasioned by the imposition of the lockdown especially during this difficult time that citizens have been asked to stay at home without the provision of social safety nets. ZimRights is further concerned that the continued reckless detention of citizens, especially activists, for trivial crimes like tweeting, may now seem like a deliberate act to expose them to the COVID-19 pandemic. ZimRights is calling upon government to respect fundamental rights during this pandemic including freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate and petition. The government must desist from targeting human rights defenders and political opponents and throwing them into cells exposing them to contract Covid-19 or infect other prisoners. ZimRights urges the law enforcement arms of government to consider using summons and written notices as the primary methods of bringing accused persons to court. Continuing with arrests and detentions during this highly infectious pandemic increases exposure and potential further spread of the disease at times that our health sector needs rehabilitation.

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