By Gift Phiri
HARARE – Zimbabwe riot police will be used to stop an opposition prayer meeting today, arranged to highlight the enforced disappearance of a journalist-turned-activist who went missing after staging sit-ins demanding the resignation of President Robert Mugabe.
Sunday’s prayer rally, called by a coalition of opposition and church groups, was due to take place at Zimbabwe Grounds to call for the return of Itai Dzamara, who was seized by five unidentified men three months ago and bundled into an unmarked truck near his home in the capital Harare, according to his family.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said she was not aware of the ban imposed on the prayer rally because she was tied up with her studies, and referred questions to Paul Nyathi. He was not taking calls from the Daily News.
But the convener of the meeting said police told them they would act decisively to prevent today’s prayer meeting.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights was challenging the ban in the High Court last night.
Organisers of the prayer meeting, among them Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and the Lovemore Madhuku-led National Constitutional Assembly, had called the prayer service to demand “the safe” return of Dzamara.
The prayer meeting was also scheduled to be graced by ex-Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo and former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa.
Obert Gutu, spokesman of the MDC, said: “It is with great sadness that we announce that the church that was organizing the Itai Dzamara prayer meeting scheduled for tomorrow has told us that the event is no longer proceeding because of gross interference by the police for no apparent reason.
“We are shocked that even the police could have the audacity to stand in the way of prayer, despite having been notified of the event by the church as required under the law.”
Gutu said as a party, they were “naturally disappointed because the safety of citizens is a key issue that deserves national attention and the invocation of the name of the Almighty God.”
“We are told that the event has been postponed to a new date but we continue to mobilize our members to attend this important national prayer meeting, whenever it will be held,” he said.
“(MDC) president Tsvangirai and the entire party were ready for this worthwhile national prayer meeting tomorrow and will continue to be ready to attend whenever it is going to take place.”
Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said yesterday: “Twenty four hours after Dzamara was abducted, president Tsvangirai said he holds the State responsible. The behaviour of the police in thwarting this prayer meeting vindicates that position. This regime is allergic to prayer.”
Tsvangirai has said he holds President Robert Mugabe and his security agencies responsible for Dzamara’s abduction and disappearance, an accusation angrily rejected by government.
“We are in no doubt as to the perpetrators of this abduction,” Tsvangirai told a news conference at his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s Harvest House HQ in central Harare just after Dzamara’s disappearance.
“We hold Mugabe and his regime responsible for this morbid and senseless act. The President, who is also AU and Sadc chair, cannot preside over a country where innocent citizens get abducted and disappear.”
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights successfully filed a harbeas corpus application at the High Court, with Justice David Mangota ordering that Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Happyton Bonyongwe and State Security Minister – listed as respondents in the application alleging state security agents had masterminded the abduction of Dzamara – find him.
All the respondents denied knowledge of Dzamara’s whereabouts during the hearing, but were ordered by the court “to do all things necessary to determine his whereabouts including advertising within 12 hours of the granting of the court order on all State media including all radio stations, ZTV, the (State-run) Herald and The Chronicle newspapers.”
The High Court Judge also directed that a team of police detectives be deployed to work closely with Dzamara’s legal practitioners to search for him “at all such places as may be within their jurisdiction in terms of the law and report progress of such search to the Registrar of the High Court by 1600 hours every Friday fortnightly until his whereabouts have been determined.”
Police has issued a statement seeking for help in the probe.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police is appealing for information on the whereabouts of Itai Peace Kadiki Dzamara aged 35 years,” the police statement said.
“Anyone with information, please contact Officer Commanding Police (Law and Order Division), Assistant Commissioner Makedenge on (04) 251505 or the Officer in Charge CID (Criminal Investigations Department) Law and Order Harare.”
In a by-monthly update to the High Court, the head of Law and Order in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Crispen Makedenge, said they have searched high and low for Dzamara but cannot find him.
“On 8 April 2015 Human Rights Lawyer, Gift Mtisi of Musendekwa, Mtisi legal practitioners visited the investigating officers in the company of an informant Stephen Sibanda,” Makedenge said in a recent update.
“His information was acted upon but could not yield any positive results as to the whereabouts of the victim, Itai Dzamara.
“All possible avenues are still being followed and the police’s doors are open for any eventualities.”
Describing the abduction as “barbaric”, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa told Parliament two months ago he could not admit that Dzamara was arrested or is in their custody, raising grave concerns for his safety.
In a BBC HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur, Information minister Jonathan Moyo claimed there was nothing unusual about Dzamara’s disappearance, suggesting that even in the UK, people disappear without a trace.
Gutu said the reaction of the police to foil an innocent prayer meeting “vindicates our position that the State has a hand in the disappearance of this innocent man and has no shame in gross human rights abuses.”
“It is obvious that if you can foil a prayer meeting, you can do worse things,” Gutu said. “This is typical of the fascist Zanu PF regime.
“We strongly suspect that the regime felt extremely uncomfortable with the possibility that thousands of MDC supporters were also going to attend the prayer meeting. This is one of the reasons why we always complain that Zimbabwe is a virtual police state where totalitarianism reigns supreme. The people’s Constitutional right of freedom of assembly and association is trampled upon with impunity by the paranoid Zanu PF regime.”
Mugabe, 91 and in power since independence in 1980, dismisses the MDC as a puppet of Zimbabwe’s former colonial master Britain which opposes him for seizing white-owned commercial farms to give to blacks. Daily News