Zimbabwe court rules against internet shutdown

Zimbabwean flag. File picture
Zimbabwean flag. File picture
Image: Natanael Alfredo Nemanita Ginting

The Zimbabwe High Court ruled on Monday that the government had no powers to order a shutdown of the internet, which was imposed as protests swept across the country last week.

State security minister Owen Ncube ordered service providers to switch off the internet as security forces cracked down following the wave of violent anti-government demonstrations ignited by fuel price increases.

Handing down judgment in a case brought by human rights lawyers and journalists, judge Owen Tagu said: “It has become very clear that the minister had no authority to make that directive.”

The lawyer representing the complainants, David Halimana, said the ruling meant mobile network operators were with immediate effect required to give full access of internet to all subscribers.

Halimana said that, in terms of the law, only the state president has powers to order an internet shutdown.

A union leader who backed the strike was arrested on Monday as the opposition reported five lawmakers had been detained in recent days.

“ZCTU [Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions] secretary-general Japhet Moyo has been arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport,” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda said. Moyo is accused of plotting to overthrow the government in the wake of protests that rocked the country last week.

Police told him they would be charging him with subverting a constitutionally elected government, the lawyers said.

Moyo appeared on a video clip posted on the ZCTU’s Twitter account last week urging workers to stay away from their jobs in protest at more than doubling of fuel prices.

He is the latest high-profile activist arrested after the strike turned into nationwide protests, with some rioting and looting.

Leading Zimbabwean activist Evan Mawarire was arrested last week and is in custody on charges of subverting the government and inciting violence, apparently after backing the strike on social media.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said five of its lawmakers had been arrested so far.

A member of parliament, Rusty Markham, “has been arrested this morning”, MDC spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said, adding that “there are several unaccounted for leaders and MPs”.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was on his way back home after cutting short a foreign tour on Sunday.

The situation was calm in the country on Monday, according to various witnesses, but roadblocks manned by both the military and police were mounted along several roads.

Some banks, shops and fuel stations were operating.

Some schools, especially in the working class suburbs, remained shut.

In the small town of Chinhoyi, north of Harare, witnesses said one primary school opened and when soldiers arrived during morning assembly, teachers fled, some jumping over the outer wall.