Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks at a election campaign rally in Mashonaland West in 2013JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Security forces have harassed, beaten, and evicted some 200 families from a farm linked to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's family, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed.

After repeated denials by authorities that Mugabe's family owns Arnolds Farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central province, police confirmed in a court filing that the First Family has interests in the property. Families have occupied the farm, located in the rich farmlands of Mazowe Valley, since 2000.

Witnesses at Arnolds Farm said that on 17 March, some 100 anti-riot police, who claimed to be acting on behalf of First Lady Grace Mugabe, ordered residents to leave the farm and beat those who resisted.

According to these sources, quoted by HRW, anti-riot police put a rope around each house, tied it to a truck and drove the truck to pull the house down. Officers then forced residents into trucks before abandoning them by the roadside 40km (24.8m) away.

A week later, the residents obtained a High Court order to stop the evictions and demolishing of their home without a valid court order.

However, when police spoke to lawyers representing the farm residents, they admitted to not having a High Court order approving the eviction, as required by law. Instead, police said they were acting on the orders of their "superiors".

"The police are illegally tearing down homes at Arnolds Farm, leaving hundreds of people homeless and destitute in heavy rains and cold weather," said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at HRW. "Residents have occupied the farm for 17 years, and any process to evict them should respect their rights and follow due process."

Most of the homes on the farm has now been demolished, families have lost or been forbidden from harvesting their corn, sugar beans, and groundnuts crops and livestock, and have been made homeless.

Following the eviction, witnesses said police then cordoned off the area, set up entry and exit checkpoints and posted 18 police officers to patrol the property. Police told residents anyone found on the farm would be trespassing.

Two residents, Tapiwa Dhaisi, 39, and Sinikiwe Mizivei, 32, were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Lawyers representing Dhaisi and Mizivei claim police assaulted their clients during their arrest. According to court papers, the pair "illegally entered into Arnolds Farm, which is owned by the First Family." They were later released.

The Arnolds Farm Residents Association claims the government has not provided them with suitable alternative land. Since 2015, the government has resettled just five families from the farm. They have received no compensation.

HRW urged the Zimbabwean government to ensure the farm residents "are not denied their rights under international law and Zimbabwe's constitution, including the rights to shelter, food, health, and the prohibition of torture".

The eviction evokes memories of the dark days in the country during the 2000 land reform programme, during which security forces and Mugabe supporters took part in violent land grabs.