HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe police arrested 10 union officials on Friday as they tried to petition the finance minister over low pay for teachers, witnesses said, extending a government clampdown on dissent that has hobbled the country’s main opposition.
Police with batons bundled the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe officials into a truck outside the finance ministry. They also arrested the group’s lawyer, Douglas Coltart, and a journalist with online news outlet newzimbabwe.com who was filming the arrest, the witnesses said.
The union had been trying to present a petition to finance minister Mthuli Ncube over teachers’ salaries, which average around 500 Zimbabwe dollars ($50) a month. Police spokesman Paul Nyathi could not be reached for comment.
The economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade, and security forces have in the past week snuffed out five attempts by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to hold street demonstrations, dashing hopes that the government might live up to promises of becoming more tolerant of dissent than the one it replaced.
Authorities also moved against the party’s national organising secretary Amos Chibaya on Friday.
He appeared before Harare magistrates charged with failing to stop the demonstration the MDC tried to hold in the capital a week ago, planned as the launch event for a nationwide protest movement against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Chibaya, who was not asked to plead, denies the charge. State prosecutors opposed his application for bail, saying he would likely commit the same crime. The magistrate was expected to make a ruling later on Friday.
The MDC accuses Mnangagwa of political repression and blames his government for mismanaging the economy, triggering triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of fuel, power and bread.
Mnangagwa was elected a year ago on a promise of breaking with the strong-arm tactics that characterised Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, and engineering an economic upturn.
An MDC official this week accused Mnangagwa’s administration of having become more repressive than the regime he replaced.
Chibaya is also facing trial on subversion charges linked to violent protests in January that prompted an army crackdown that led to the deaths of more than a dozen people.
Residents say police have increased patrols in Zimbabwe’s cities, where the MDC enjoys more support, since last week.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and John Stonestreet