Zimbabwe opposition vows to defy new protest ban

Zimbabwean police issued an order on Friday barring all protests in the capital Harare, but the opposition says they will still march on Saturday.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Opposition party supporters hold placards during a court appearance of those arrested following Friday's protest march, in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 29, 2016.

Opposition activists in Zimbabwe vowed on Friday to challenge a police order barring protests in the capital Harare, on the eve of mass demonstrations planned across the country against President Robert Mugabe.

A coalition of opposition parties united under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) is demanding reform, which includes free access to the voters’ roll ahead of the 2018 vote. 

The month-long protest ban was instituted on Friday, just over a week after the courts overturned an earlier order.

Zimbabwe has been rocked by a string of highly charged demonstrations in recent weeks, and Mugabe's opponents have become emboldened by rising public anger and protests over an economic meltdown, cash shortages and high unemployment.

Zimbabwean police have fired tear gas and water cannons at opposition leaders and demonstrators, and the unrest has swept across vast areas of the capital Harare in the previous protests.

Opposition protesters on occasion have also clashed with supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, with both sides hurling stones at each other.

Mugabe has slammed the protests and accused foreign powers of having a hand in the unrest.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses the decision making body of his ruling ZANU PF party in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 9, 2016.

"They are burning types in the streets in order to get into power. They are thinking that what happened in the Arab Spring is going to happen in this country, but we tell them that is not going to happen here," said Mugabe in remarks broadcast on state television a few weeks ago.

Opposition leaders have condemned the brutal repression of the protests and vowed to increase pressure on Mugabe's government.

A former Mugabe ally and ex-cabinet minister, Didymus Mutasa – who is now a senior member of the opposition Zimbabwe People First party formed this year by former vice president Joice Mujuru – said a few weeks ago that protests "will continue until the day we vote."

In response to the ban, NERA spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the opposition parties would challenge Friday’s ban in the high court.

"This is a typical comedy of errors where the state has fallen into the very same legal trap it fell into last time," he told Agence France Presse

"A similar order was challenged before a competent court which declared it invalid and nothing is to be gained by issuing the same order again."

Mugabe has blasted judges for "reckless" rulings and vowed a crackdown on dissent.

The spokesperson for the protest group Tajamuka, Promise Mkwananzi, said they would march on Saturday, despite the police order.

"The constitution and the high court allow for peaceful demonstrations," he told AFP. 

"The police are promoting lawlessness in the country by banning peaceful demonstrations." 

Last general elections, which were held in 2013 and marred by electoral fraud, were won by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

Mugabe, 92, has often used brutal force to silence his opponents and warned the protestors last week they were "playing a dangerous game."

TRTWorld and agencies