(Harare) – The Zimbabwe government should immediately and impartially investigate the use of force by security forces to clamp down on post-election protests in Harare on August 1, 2018. Soldiers and anti-riot police were implicated in the deaths of at least six people and serious injuries to dozens more.

Human Rights Watch witnessed the chaos on the streets of Harare, when hundreds of soldiers and anti-riot police were deployed across the city, as residents awaited the result of the July 30 national elections. Scores of soldiers patrolled on foot, indiscriminately beating anyone in sight as two helicopters in military camouflage colors flew several times over the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance party headquarters. The police confirmed the death of six people, though there are fears that the death toll could be higher.

“The heavy-handed response to Zimbabwe’s post-election protests, including firing live ammunition, suggests that the security forces are as abusive as ever,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Prompt, credible investigations are needed so that those responsible can be held to account and future violence is avoided.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who initially blamed the MDC opposition party for the violence, later posted a message on Twitter calling for “an independent investigation into what occurred in Harare” and saying that “those responsible should be identified and brought to justice.”

A witness told Human Rights Watch that a uniformed soldier shot one woman – Sylvia Maposa – in the back between her shoulders as she was heading home from work in Harare late in the afternoon. Maposa, who was not among the protesters, collapsed and died on the spot. Other witnesses said they saw a member of the security forces shoot a 45-year-old man in the stomach at Fourth Street, east of Harare, killing him instantly.

The security forces also used apparently unnecessary or excessive force against both protesters and bystanders, Human Rights Watch said. A 49-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that a soldier shot him on Nelson Mandela Street in Harare: “l tried to explain to the soldier that l was not part of the protest, but he just aimed his rifle and shot me in my right foot.”

At Market Square in Harare, a soldier shot an elderly woman walking to a public transport station in the left shoulder, breaking her arm, a relative said. A uniformed security guard, 34, said five soldiers with iron bars beat him, breaking his arm, and told him not to go to work.

“The authorities should immediately put an end to security force abuses and allow for peaceful protests as part of the democratic process,” Mavhinga said. “That would signal that there is indeed a new dispensation of respect for rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe."