Zimbabwe police arrested 10 union officials on Friday as they tried to lobby 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.
Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said police had asked the group to pay a fine for a charge of public nuisance, which they refused.
Police spokesman Paul Nyathi could not immediately 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.
The party’s national organizing secretary Amos Chibaya on Friday appeared before Harare magistrates charged with failing to stop a demonstration the MDC tried to hold in the capital a week ago. He denies the charge.
The protest was planned as the launch event for a nationwide protest movement against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa was elected a year ago on a promise of breaking with the strong-arm tactics that characterized Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, and engineering an economic upturn.
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.
It said in a statement Chibaya’s detention “is testimony that the regime is undertaking a brutal program of persecution by prosecution” of MDC members.
If convicted he faces a one-year jail term or a fine.
State prosecutors opposed his application for bail, saying he would likely commit the same crime. The magistrate said she would make a bail ruling on Monday, which means Chibaya will spent the weekend in detention.
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.