On June 22, 2020, authorities arrested eight Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) students for participating in protests supporting three jailed members of an opposition political group.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, an electoral bloc composed of several Zimbabwean opposition political parties, has historically been targeted by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front for its democratic values. On June 10, 2020, authorities arrested MDC Member of Parliament Joana Mamombe, Alliance Youth Assembly Vice Chair Cecilia Chimbiri, and Deputy Organising Secretary for Youth Netsai Marova. The three were charged with allegedly lying about being abducted and tortured by state security agents following an earlier arrest in May.
On June 22, CUT students, during a lecture, reportedly raised and distributed placards with messages calling for the release of the three MDC Alliance leaders. The Zimbabwe National Students Union stated that eight students were later arrested on campus by members of the Criminal Investigations Department – a subunit of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. The arrested students were Melody Madalamete,Faustina Madava, Norman Makamanzi, Nicola Makasu, Brian Mushakwe, Ignatious Nochombo, Lionel Shayahama, and Shamiso Whide. The eight students were charged with “participating in a gathering likely to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry as defined in section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Act alternatively contravening section 7(5) of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act for allegedly failing to notify the regulating authority.”
On June 23, the eight students were released on free bail by Chinhoyi magistrate Felix Mawadze. The students were told to refrain from participating in any protests, cooperate with investigators, and remain on campus until returning to court on July 14.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of students in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in the nonviolent exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arrests and prosecutions intended to restrict or retaliate against expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.