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Sunday, April 11, 2021

#ZimbabweanRightsMatter: Why people are using the hashtag in an online campaign?

The Zimbabwean administration had recently opposed a peaceful street protest against economic turmoil and human rights violations. That time, it had arrested several activists, opposition leaders, and journalists. Now days after the event, the campaign has shifted online – more so taking inspiration from the global #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Interestingly, more than 700,000 posts have been shared with the hashtag #ZimbabweanRightsMatter, with protestors demanding the release of those arrested for condemning the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led Zimbabwe government for stifling dissent.

Meanwhile, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a public address on TV, termed the opposition political parties “terrorist grouplings,” thereby accusing them of working with foreigners to topple his administration in Zimbabwe. “The bad apples that have attempted to divide our people and to weaken our systems will be flushed out, Good shall triumph over evil,” the 77-year-old President said.

For the unversed, it was on July 31 that Emmerson Mnangagwa had unleashed heavily armed soldiers and police on Harare streets. It was during the time when hundreds of activists and opposition leaders were conducting a peaceful protest against the economic crisis and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. The 2020 Booker Prize long-listed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was also one of the 60 protestors and he too was arrested by law enforcement authorities.

What triggered the online protests?

The demonstration was expected to take place on July 31 against the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy apart from the arrests of critics of the Emmerson Mnangagwa government. As the current President came to power in 2018 after replacing the country’s former strongman Robert Mugabe, he promised that he will revive Zimbabwe’s economy. Albeit, he clearly failed to do so. He had also promised a “new democracy”. However, as soon as he came to power, he kick-started his reign of repression.

Two-and-a-half-years later, protests began in May when three female opposition activists were abducted, attacked, and sexually assaulted by a group of government personnel in plainclothes, as reported by the New York Times. Soon, the arrests of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and leader of the opposition Transform Zimbabwe Party Jacob Ngarivhume, sparked outrage as well. It was Hopefull who had recently exposed a corrupt government scheme which involved the procurement of COVID-19 supplies. Additionally, Jacob was the one who had called for treet rallies against corruption across the country on July 31.

Eventually, when the Mnangagwa administration thwarted the protests, opposition leaders, activists, and members of the civil society took to social media and demanded justice by using the hashtag #ZimbabweanRightsMatter.

Anti-government protests in Zimbabwe
(Source: CNN)

Government’s response?

Just one day before the demonstration, soldiers and anti-riot police were put in place at checkpoints across streets of Harare, in order to enforce a ban on gatherings. “All security arms of government are on full alert and will deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence and sending threats or provocative messages through the social media or any other means,” an official statement from the police claimed. Clearly, the protestors said that the COVID-19 pandemic was just used as an excuse and it was to curb freedom of expression and stifle dissent.

Adding to it, politicians, celebrities, and other public figures from across the world have supported the protestors.

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