A policeman stands guard as some of the people arrested during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices, make their court appearance at the magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Jan,16, 2019. Some dozens of people appeared in court and were charged with public violence and a human rights group in Zimbabwe says a few people were killed in clashes between demonstrators protesting fuel hikes and security forces who opened fire on some crowds. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Hundreds of people have been detained in Zimbabwe © AP

At least a dozen Zimbabweans have been killed by security forces as Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government reimposed an internet shutdown on the southern African nation buckling under a currency crisis.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said on Friday that it had recorded the 12 deaths as well as dozens of gunshot injuries and hundreds of arbitrary detentions since protests over a sharp rise in fuel prices were put down with brutal force this week.

Zimbabwe was descending into “days of darkness”, the civil society group said.

The US, EU and the UN have all called for Mr Mnangagwa to end the crackdown, which has rounded up opposition leaders and activists amid an information blackout.

On Friday Econet, Zimbabwe’s largest telecoms company, said it had been “served with another directive for total shutdown of the internet until further notice”. Activists said that the outage provided cover for security forces to carry out violent house searches in several cities.

The NGO Human Rights Forum said it had “received disturbing reports of armed security personnel breaking into private homes of citizens, indiscriminately torturing occupants, including children as young as nine years old”.

Energy Mutodi, the deputy information minister, denied that there was any shutdown and blamed “congestion” for Zimbabwe’s internet being down.

Mr Mnangagwa is a former security chief elevated to power by Zimbabwe’s army in 2017 after it toppled Robert Mugabe, the country’s strongman of four decades.

His pledge to make Zimbabwe “open for business” has been undermined by his ruling Zanu-PF’s failure to tackle severe shortages of US dollars.

The shortage and the rapid collapse in the black-market value of government-issued surrogate currencies have led to surging prices for basic items and misery for ordinary Zimbabweans.

Mr Mnangagwa’s decision to more than double fuel prices overnight triggered this week’s demonstrations, which included trade unions calling for workers to stay at home. The protests were unusually widespread and analysts said that they appeared to reflect growing desperation of the country’s urban poor.

Soldiers and police used live ammunition to clear the protests “in broad daylight”, said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

Analysts say the government is lashing out as it loses control of its finances due to the crisis.

The heavy-handed response were “tactics copied verbatim from the Robert Mugabe authoritarian playbook”, said Charles Laurie, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a political risk consultancy.

Owen Ncube, the state security minister, blamed the opposition MDC Alliance for the violence. The government said that it had arrested about 600 people so far.

Evan Mawarire, a Baptist pastor who organised a nationwide strike that shut Zimbabwe down in 2016, appeared in court on Friday in connection with charges of subversion after being detained in the week.

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