Faith leaders have expressed concern about a spate of abductions in Zimbabwe, including one incident that involved three female members of an opposition political party.
Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-Alliance) members Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecilia Chimbiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice-Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organizing Secretary of the Youth wing) were protesting the government’s failure adequately protect poor communities during the country's COVID-19 lockdown when they were detained police.
Later, they were taken from police custody and were subjected to torture, sexually assault and inhumanely treated by a group of unknown assailants. They were later discovered abused and traumatized by the roadside north of Harare. The violent incident took place just a few days after the assault of two sisters, Ntombizodwa and Nokuthula Mpofu, of Cowdray Park, Bulawayo at the hands of six police officers.
Earlier this week, Zimbabwe's justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said that the three politicians may still be prosecuted for violating the country's lockdown rules. He also questioned the reliability of their story. "I don't believe the abduction is genuine," he was reported as saying. "Firstly there is a pandemic, and the world over people are being told to stay home. They decide to break that.
"The lockdown has created an environment where they are no longer relevant. They wanted relevance. It is diversionary tactic and once they are discharged [from hospital] they must be arrested for breaking the law."
According to Chimbiri, the group were transported by the police into the hands of men in plain clothes, before being driven outside Harare to a pit that had been dug into the ground. There they suffered beatings and sexual assault. "I was praying and screaming inside the pit. At one point, I prayed for a swift death. I was in so much pain," Ms Chimbiri told the BBC from hospital.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), which is part of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), vehemently denounced the abductions of the three MDC leaders, stating that such an attack was "against the heart of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the various International Conventions to which Zimbabwe is a signatory and, above all, to our cultural norms and our fundamental Christian beliefs regarding the sanctity and dignity of life.”
The leaders called for a full investigation into the incident, adding: “What is further disturbing are the insinuations, from some state agents, that all these abductions arc either stage-managed or carried out by an unrecognizable “third force” without substantiating such claims with credible and irrefutable evidence.”
Church leaders who are part of ZHOCD have continued to offer pastoral support, comfort and protection to the victims.