Zimbabwean police have arrested two senior opposition leaders on allegations of communicating falsehoods on Twitter amid fears of a renewed crackdown against government critics.
Fadzayi Mahere, the spokesperson of the mainstream opposition MDC Alliance, was arrested on Monday while the party’s deputy chairperson Job Sikhala was picked up on Saturday.
They are being charged alongside prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for tweeting that police had beaten an infant to death while enforcing Covid-19 regulations.
A video allegedly showing a police officer being confronted by a mother carrying the seemingly lifeless baby went viral on social media.
Police later said the baby and the mother were examined by health officials after the incident and it was proven that they were not hurt.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said Ms Mahere had been charged with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state.”
“She is accused of publishing or communicating a statement intending or realising risk or possibility of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety, with alternative charge of undermining public confidence in the law enforcement agency,” ZLHR said.
As Ms Mahere was being charged, Mr Chin’ono and Mr Sikhala, who spent the weekend in custody over similar charges, were being taken to a Harare magistrates’ court for bail hearings.
The arrests have been denounced by MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa as “arbitrary and abuse of power.”
“The regime is hell-bent on selective application of the law, with the law being weaponised against political opponents and critics,” Mr Chamisa said.
“These arrests…during a severe pandemic are designed to expose political opponents to hazard.
“This is sadistic, heartless and abominable.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was last year censured by the United Nations and African Union, among other agencies, after it launched a crackdown against opposition and civic society leaders who spoke against corruption.
The opposition says the crackdown has not stopped.
A month ago police arrested Harare mayor Jacob Mafume, also from MDC Alliance, on corruption allegations. His party, however, said he was being targeted for persecution.
At the weekend his lawyers said he had fallen seriously ill in remand prison and was exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.
Ms Mahere and Mr Sikhala were out on bail after they were arrested in July last year for their alleged role in protests against rampant corruption.
On the other hand, Mr Chin’ono’s arrest was the third in six months after he was detained twice last year over his tweets that were critical of President Mnangagwa’s administration.
In November last year, he was freed by the High Court after spending two weeks in remand on charges of obstructing justice.
In July, he was arrested for allegedly inciting protests through Twitter posts and he spent over 40 days in a Harare maximum security prison.
Mr Chin’ono says he is being persecuted for speaking out against corruption cases in which President Mnangagwa’s family is implicated.