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AD375: Zimbabweans trust police and military, but not enough to criticize them
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On 4 April 2020, the Zimbabwe government deployed the army to help police enforce a national lockdown aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19. As of mid-July, police and soldiers continued to jointly staff roadblocks and conduct patrols in all urban centers and residential suburbs to ensure that the public complies with the lockdown measures.
But allegations of brutality suggest that some security agents are abusing their authority under the lockdown. Pictures circulated widely on social media of injuries suffered by two sisters who, while in a queue to buy food in Bulawayo, were reportedly handcuffed, verbally abused, and physically assaulted with batons for several hours (Tshili, 2020). Three men are suing the police commissioner general, claiming they suffered a broken arm, hearing problems, and dislocated shoulders during beatings by the police (Ncube, 2020). In response to an urgent chamber application by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and a woman who was bitten by dogs, the country’s High Court has ordered soldiers, police, and other state security agents to respect human rights, dignity, and fundamental freedoms while enforcing the country’s lockdown regulations (Dube, 2020).
Considering that such cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since many others likely go unreported, the question is who will police the police and the military during this indefinite lockdown. Based on 2018 Afrobarometer survey data, this dispatch finds that while a slim majority of Zimbabweans expressed trust in the police and the military, most citizens did not feel free to criticize them. Overall, popular perceptions of the military’s pre-pandemic role and conduct were more positive than negative, but opposition supporters, urban residents, and highly educated citizens were more likely to express reservations.