NEW YORK—Violent attacks on members of Zimbabwe’s political opposition, efforts to muzzle journalists, and the arrest of senior opposition leader Tendai Biti demonstrate a ruthless government campaign to silence dissent in the wake of a contested election, PEN America said in a statement today.

On July 30, Zimbabweans voted in the first presidential election since Robert Mugabe was ousted by the military in November 2017. Incumbent president Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner with 50.8% of the vote, only just passing the 50% threshold necessary to avoid a run-off. However, the announcement of results was delayed by four days, raising concern among opposition that the count was being manipulated. Opposition protests were met with violence; at least six civilians were killed by security forces. Local civil society organizations have reported that journalists were injured during the violence that occurred on August 1, and reporters were also blocked from attending a press conference convened by the opposition on Friday. In recent days, there have been widespread reports of violence against opposition party members and activists, and Biti had gone into hiding. After he crossed the border into Zambia yesterday and claimed asylum, Zambian officials quickly stated that his claims lacked merit and returned him to Zimbabwean custody this morning, prompting a statement of concern from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regarding the forcible return of asylum-seekers. Biti appeared in Harare magistrates court this morning on charges that he violated the electoral law by declaring the opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, the winner prior to the announcement of official results. He has been released on bail pending trial.  

“Reported violent attacks against members of the opposition, efforts to muzzle journalists, and now the arrest of Tendai Biti despite his legal attempts to claim asylum in Zambia are clear efforts by the regime to silence Zimbabwe’s political opposition once and for all,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s Free Expression at Risk Programs Director. “Mnangagwa’s comments just days ago that free speech is an indispensable element of a ‘new Zimbabwe’ are farcical against the backdrop of this brutal suppression of dissenting voices.”

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