BINDULA (ZIMBABWE) – Zimbabwean opposition supporters chanted and sang freedom songs outside a courthouse on Sunday, after the government decided to ban them from holding rallies six weeks before elections.
The Bindura Town Court upheld Friday’s police order that the opposition Alliance for Citizens Change could not hold a rally to officially launch its campaign because the venue was unsuitable. CCC has appealed the order to the court.
The decision heightened tensions in the southern African country, which has a history of violent and contentious elections.
The CCC immediately criticized the move, seeing it as more evidence that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling African National Union-Patriotic Front party were trying to use the police and courts to suppress opposition.
Mnangagwa, 80, replaced longtime dictator Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup. He promised a new era of freedom and prosperity for Zimbabweans, who had seen the country’s economy collapse amid the highest inflation ever recorded.
But critics say Mnangagwa’s policies are as repressive as his predecessor’s and the economy continues to crumble. Criticism of any kind will be suppressed.
CCC supporters, dressed in yellow, gathered outside the Bindura Magistrates Court and chanted “The Dictatorship Remains”. When will this country be free? “
Police said the venue chosen by the opposition for Sunday’s rally was inappropriate because it was a “bush” area with poor road access, raising safety concerns for participants. Police also said there was a “high risk” of the spread of the infectious disease.
Thousands of ruling party supporters packed the stadium tightly to listen to Mnangagwa’s speech on Saturday, and the rally was allowed to continue.
“We’re going into a race with our legs tied,” said CCC lawyer Agency Gumbo. “They’d rather keep the opposition in court than campaign.”
“An uneven playing field shows that the democratic process has been corrupted,” Gambaugh said.
The CCC initially appealed the police order to the High Court in the capital, Harare, on Saturday. The case was referred to Bindura Court, where the rally was scheduled to take place.The Bindura court finally delivered its ruling late on Sunday afternoon, hours after the rally was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The CCC said the crackdown on the eve of the Aug. 23 election included violence and intimidation against its supporters, arrests of its officials and bans on its rallies. The opposition has also raised concerns about voter irregularities ahead of elections that will determine the presidency, parliamentary composition and nearly 2,000 local government jobs.
Mnangagwa and his government have denied the intimidation allegations, and the president recently described Zimbabwe as “a mature democracy”.
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa narrowly lost the 2018 presidential election to Mnang Wagwa, whose vote-rigging charges were dismissed by the constitutional court.
Mnangagwa and Chamisa, 45, are two of 11 candidates registered to run in next month’s presidential election. (Associated Press)
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