Harare riot police used batons to break up a demonstration by youth from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) demanding that veteran President Robert Mugabe deliver on his pre-election promise to create two million jobs.
The protest came as leaders from the Southern African Development Community – a 15-member bloc – met in the resort town of Victoria Falls for an annual summit, which elected Mugabe chair.
“The newly appointed SADC chairperson Robert Mugabe crushed jobless youth in Harare today,” Clifford Hlatshwayo, spokesman for the MDC youth wing who was present, told AFP.
Police were not immediately available to comment.
A reporter from the privately-owned Zimbabwe Mail said her colleague, photojournalist Angela Jimu, was also beaten by police at the Harare rally and had two of her cameras and a mobile phone confiscated.
“We were covering the demonstration by MDC youths when police started beating the protesters,” the reporter said.
“When the police realised that Angela was taking pictures, they beat her with batons… They took her to central police station together with several others. I could see she was in pain.”
Constantine Chimakure, editor of the Zimbabwe Mail, later said that journalist Angela Jimu was eventually freed without charge.
Rights groups last week urged the southern African countries at the SADC meeting to address abuses and uphold individual freedoms in their countries.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights deplored “serious human rights concerns” in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
They accused Harare of dragging its feet in prosecuting perpetrators of political violence, and denounced secrecy around mining rights and the country’s lucrative diamond fields.
Mugabe, in his maiden speech as chair of the meeting, said the SADC prided itself on having an impressive track record on matters of peace, security and democracy.