Organizers said demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but instead targeted the ruling political party, using the hashtag #ZANUPFmustgo.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has described the planned protest as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.”
Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy implodes with inflation of more than 700%, the second highest in the world. Now the coronavirus burdens the threadbare health system. Zimbabwe's agriculture minister died of COVID-19 earlier this week.
Mnangagwa’s government is accused of using COVID-19 as a cover to clamp down on dissent. The opposition and human rights groups have said they witnessed abuses such as arrests, detentions, beatings and the stalking of activists and ordinary people accused of violating the lockdown ahead of the planned protest.
Police and government spokespeople have dismissed the allegations, even as a prominent journalist and a politician behind the protest have spent close to two weeks in detention.
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, the High Court on Saturday ordered the police to “produce” within 72 hours Tawanda Muchehiwa, the nephew of investigative journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu. Police took Muchehiwa into custody on Thursday after failing to find Mathuthu, whom they wanted to arrest, said his lawyers.
Mathuthu has recently reported on alleged corruption linked to purchases of supplies to battle COVID-19.