Zimbabwe imposed a “total internet shutdown” for most of Friday in what critics called an attempt to hide growing reports of a violent crackdown on protests against a dramatic fuel price increase.
Badly injured people streamed into a hospital in the capital, Harare, after alleged assaults by security forces.
Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive, and Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest.
Others took to the streets. Since then, graphic reports have emerged of security forces targeting activists and labour leaders while the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa blames the opposition for the unrest.
“Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.
Access to the internet and popular social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp has been intermittently blocked as the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, sends customers text messages relaying the government’s orders and calling the situation “beyond our reasonable control.”
Hundreds of Zimbabweans arrested during the protests were detained on Friday on public order charges, as the United Nations urged an end to the brutal security crackdown and the internet blackout.
Among the around 400 people charged by magistrates on Friday was pastor Evan Mawarire, a rights activist who rose to prominence as a critic of Robert Mugabe’s rule and led a national protest in 2016.
The pastor called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.
He will stand trial on more serious charges of subverting the government after encouraging Zimbabweans via social media to heed a strike call from unions.
His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she would lodge a High Court appeal for him to be released on bail. Mawarire faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for restraint by the Zimbabwe authorities.
“We are worried with the deterioration of the situation caused by the potential use of excessive violence in confronting the demonstrations in Zimbabwe,” Guterres told a news conference in New York on Friday.
A protester gestures as he holds a dog before a burning barricade during protests in Harare [File: [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]
Mnangagwa is set to plead for more international investment in Zimbabwe at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.
Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.”
But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t have a currency of its own.
The internet shutdown cuts off crucial access to the mobile money that Zimbabwe’s government uses to pay teachers and other public workers.
Some said they can no longer afford fares for public transport, and some shops have run out of basics such as bread.
The UK’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters.
The European Union in a statement late Thursday noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that internet service be restored.
Sign language: Connecting people and cultures
The Deaf Friends team – KUNA photosSign language is a full-fledged means of communication for deaf people, depending on facial and body gestures that enable them to interact. The UN General Assembly set Sept 23 as the International Day for Sign Languages to highlight their importance, and how it was a major right for deaf…
The Deaf Friends team – KUNA photosSign language is a full-fledged means of communication for deaf people, depending on facial and body gestures that enable them to interact. The UN General Assembly set Sept 23 as the International Day for Sign Languages to highlight their importance, and how it was a major right for deaf people to have their own languages. The international day coincides with the establishment of the World Federation of the Deaf, founded in 1951.
“Sign language is multicultural and derived from the culture of every country,” said Hamad Al-Marri, President of Kuwait Sport Club for the Deaf. Marri, also member of the higher council for the disabled, told KUNA deaf people will be using their hands and other body gestures to express themselves. Every country has a unique sign language depending on its culture, he explained. “There is an international sign language, an Arab sign language and a unique local sign language.”
Arabic days of the week in sign languageMarri said many deaf people have occupied senior positions because they excelled in the use of sign language. He added he proposed to the Civil Service Commission for the appointment of people with sign language expertise in government departments to help the deaf. Marri said HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah instructed Kuwait National Guards personnel, when he was deputy chief of KNG, to learn sign language to communicate with the deaf.
Arabic alphabets in sign languageDr Mohammad Al-Ramzi, a sign language instructor, said sign language “is rich, expressive and complicated just like the spoken language, and it has a grammar framework similar to all human languages”. Speaking to KUNA, Ramzi said Arab countries unified their sign languages in 1999 and a dictionary was published with more than 3,000 signs. Kuwait was the first country in the world to interpret three TV news bulletins. The bulletins were raised to eight per day in 2020, he added.
Ismail Karam, Technical Director at Kuwait Sport Club for the Deaf, said he learned sign language at Al-Amal (Hope) School for people with special needs, which he joined in 1960. After spending 12 years at the school, Karam graduated with the ability to write and sign. He then worked at the finance ministry’s printing press where he spent 30 years, during which he joined former classmates to establish the Kuwait Society for Deaf and Dumb in 1975. The society later changed its name to Kuwait Sport Club for the Deaf.
Al-Zahraa Al-Tamimi, member of the Deaf Friends team, said team members are teaching hearing-impaired people how to use sign language. The team, she told KUNA, sought to spread the use of sign language on social media, TV channels and public places. Kuwait is the second Arab country to introduce education of the deaf – the ministry of education issued a law in 1965 making it mandatory for people with special needs to get an education. – KUNA
Kuwaiti army chief, Australian commander discuss military issues
KUWAIT: Lieutenant General Khaled Saleh Al-Sabah receives Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force Brigadier General David Paddison. – KUNAKUWAIT: Chief of the General Staff of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sheikh Khaled Saleh Al-Sabah discussed with the Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force Brigadier General David Paddison important matters and topics of…
KUWAIT: Lieutenant General Khaled Saleh Al-Sabah receives Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force Brigadier General David Paddison. – KUNAKUWAIT: Chief of the General Staff of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sheikh Khaled Saleh Al-Sabah discussed with the Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force Brigadier General David Paddison important matters and topics of common interest, especially those related to the military. The general staff said in a press statement yesterday that Sheikh Khaled received Paddison along with his accompanying delegation during his official visit to the country.
During the meeting, the important matters and topics of common interest were discussed, where the chief of staff commended the depth of bilateral ties between both sides. The meeting was attended by Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Army Lt Gen Fahad Al-Nasser, Australian Ambassador to Kuwait Jonathan Gilbert and several senior army commanding officers. – KUNA
Myanmar will not address world leaders at UN General Assembly
Russia and China have reportedly agreed to allow Kyaw Moe Tun to keep Myanmar’s UN seat as long as he does not speak during high-level meeting.No representative from Myanmar is scheduled to address the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly next week, a UN spokesman said, amid rival claims for the country’s UN seat in…
Russia and China have reportedly agreed to allow Kyaw Moe Tun to keep Myanmar’s UN seat as long as he does not speak during high-level meeting.No representative from Myanmar is scheduled to address the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly next week, a UN spokesman said, amid rival claims for the country’s UN seat in New York after a military coup deposed the elected government.
“At this point, Myanmar is not speaking,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.
Myanmar’s current UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun – appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government – had initially been expected to address the 193-member General Assembly on Monday, the final day of the gathering.
But diplomats said China, Russia and the United States had reached an understanding, where Moscow and Beijing will not object to Kyaw Moe Tun remaining in Myanmar’s UN seat for the moment as long as he does not speak during the high-level meeting.
“I withdrew from the speaker list, and will not speak at this general debate,” Kyaw Moe Tun told Reuters the news agency, adding that he was aware of the understanding between some members of the UN credentials committee, which includes Russia, China and the US.
Myanmar’s military government has put forward military veteran Aung Thurein to be its UN envoy, while Kyaw Moe Tun has asked to renew his UN accreditation, despite being the target of a plot to kill or injure him for his opposition to the February coup.
UN accreditation issues are dealt with by a nine-member committee, whose members include the US, China and Russia. It traditionally meets in October or November.
Until a decision is made by the credentials committee, Kyaw Moe Tun will remain in the seats, according to the General Assembly rules. The same rule also applies to the representative of Afghanistan.
News of Kyaw Moe Tun’s absence on Monday comes as violence linked to the February 1 coup continues to displace thousands of civilians at home.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was overthrown by the military in February, sparking a nationwide uprising that the military has tried to crush.
Attacks on the military have increased after lawmakers deposed by the generals called for a “people’s defensive war” earlier this month.
News of Kyaw Moe Tun’s absence on Monday comes as violence linked to the February 1 coup continues to displace thousands of civilians at home [File: Osamu Honda/AP]The latest violence was reported in Chin state and Sagaing region in the country’s northwest, with soldiers engaging in battles with armed local defence groups.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and nearly 8,000 arrested since the coup, according to local observers.
Coup leaders have defended its power grab by alleging massive fraud during elections in late 2020 which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.
On Thursday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of a human rights catastrophe under military rule in Myanmar and urged the international community to do more to prevent the conflict in the country from getting worse.
“The national consequences are terrible and tragic – the regional consequences could also be profound,” she said in a statement.
“The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late.”