August 30, 2016 / 10:13 AM / 3 years ago

Zimbabwe rights body criticizes 'violent' police crackdown

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has accused the police of brutality and violating the rights of protesters when clamping down on anti-government demonstrations in the last two months.

Riot police stand guard as opposition party supporters, arrested following Friday's protest march, arrive at court in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 29, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Political tension is rising in the southern African nation, where public anger at the dire state of the economy, in particular an 80 percent jobless rate, cash shortages and delays in salaries for public workers, has spilled onto the streets.

Zimbabwe’s police have a history of violence against President Robert Mugabe’s opponents and last month a trauma clinic said dozens of people, including children, suffered “savage” abuse after a demonstration.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba declined to comment on the findings of the ZHRC, an independent body formed in 2013.

In its first statement on the protests the commission said its investigations had revealed “unbecoming and violent conduct” by police officers and urged victims to make formal complaints.

“It is noted with regret that the police did violate the fundamental rights of the people as evidenced by the facts gathered on the ground,” it said.

“Security concerns should not be used as an excuse to harass demonstrators and non-demonstrators. Citizens should enjoy police protection and not brutality.”

The commission also said demonstrations should be peaceful, after protests on Friday descended into some of the worst violence seen in the former British colony for two decades.

Sixty-eight people have been charged with public violence at Friday’s clashes. A court was due to rule on Tuesday whether they should be released from custody while they await trial.

More anti-government protests are planned for Wednesday and Friday.

Mugabe has said there would be no “Arab Spring” in Zimbabwe, referring to a wave of revolts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, some of which toppled governments, while others were stamped out by security forces.

Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe rejected criticism from the United States and Canada.

“Their statements last week were not only unacceptably repugnant but vainly suggested their governments play father-figure to a sovereign state, as if Zimbabwe is under some kind of joint U.S.-Canadian trusteeship,” he said in a statement.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley and Robin Pomeroy

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