Zimbabwe’s ruling party threatened the expulsion of the United States ambassador, amid an intensification of repression against opposition and union activists ahead of anti-corruption protests planned on Friday.
Zanu-PF officials called Ambassador Brian Nichols “a bully” who fomented the unrest by funding the protest organizers.
The accusation came when the police released a “wanted list” of 14 prominent government critics, including trade unionist Peter Mutasa, opposition lawmaker Job Sikhala and two former youth leaders of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Patrick Chinamasa, the Zanu-PF spokesman, said Nichols and a “gangster gang” should stop “mobilizing and financing riots, coordinating violence and training the insurgency.” Our leadership will not hesitate to give you marching orders. ”
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug,” said Chinamasa.
The outbreak follows criticism from the United States and other Western powers over last week’s arrests of opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been an outspoken critic of corruption under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Chin’ono recently released documents expressing concern that powerful people in Zimbabwe are benefiting from multi-million dollar deals for essential supplies to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The 49-year-old journalist is now in prison awaiting trial for incitement to public violence by promoting planned protests that police say will turn violent.
Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume, who face similar charges, deny wrongdoing and could face up to 10 years in prison.
The arrests were also criticized by the UN and campaign groups like Amnesty International.
Monica Mutsvangwa, the information minister, said over the weekend that the two men had attempted to overthrow the Zimbabwean government in collusion with the United States and unidentified western powers.
Similar allegations were systematically leveled for much of the government of Robert Mugabe, the former dictatorial ruler who was toppled in a 2017 military takeover.
Mugabe’s fall raised fleeting hopes for reform and possible diplomatic rehabilitation for the former British colony. Without better relations with the United States, there is little hope of a desperately needed economic bailout for the heavily indebted state.
As the economic situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated in recent months, there has been an increase in repression and a series of kidnappings by government critics. Many detainees have been assaulted, humiliated or threatened, and several have been told not to criticize the government.
Millions in Zimbabwe face a severe shortage of staple foods as prices soar. The country also faces an impending health crisis as Covid-19 cases increase.
This has made the government particularly sensitive to allegations of corruption.
Chinamasa also issued what appeared to be a call to action for surveillance, telling government supporters to “use whatever means necessary” if there was disorder during the protests scheduled for Friday.
“Do not ask permission from anyone, it is your constitutional and legal right. Don’t just sit there … calling us. No, not this time, use any means at your disposal to defend yourself. We remind our people that self-defense is a right, especially when their security is threatened by these alleged violent protesters, “said Chinamasa.
Despite the country’s problems, Zimbabwe’s divided opposition has not yet mobilized a mass protest movement.
Fadzayi Mahere, a spokesman for the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, told The Guardian that the publication of a list of people wanted by the police before the protests was an “attempt to intimidate citizens who have expressed their intention to demonstrate peacefully. ” .
“The crackdown … is the latest in a series of attacks by the state in an attempt to stifle the main opposition, further reduce democratic space and distract attention from the national crisis and the failure of the Mnangagwa government.” The state is at war with its citizens. “
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo was charged last month in connection with awarding a $ 60 million (£ 47 million) contract to a company that allegedly sold Covid-19 supplies to the government at inflated prices.