‘Politicians attempted to label people demanding their rights as criminals, constantly intimidating, harassing and jailing them,’ said Amnesty’s Regional Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena.
He said peaceful protests were shut down and stifled in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
University students demanding free education in South Africa in 2016 were met with excessive use of force by the police, said Muchena.
“Clearly something is wrong when a government refuses to listen to the demands of its people and instead deploys police using excessive force,” Muchena said.
It said popular Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire was jailed for demanding accountability from the government of President Robert Mugabe.
“Politicians must stop persecuting human rights defenders and activists who exercise their right to freedom of expression. Regional and international human rights obligations and commitments must move from paper to action,” the rights watchdog said.
The report also criticized the South African government for allegedly turning a blind eye to war crimes by announcing its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.
South Africa announced last October it had begun the formal process to withdraw from the Hague-based court following a row created after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited South Africa in 2015 despite being wanted by the ICC for war crimes.
“South Africa was one of three African countries to announce withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, effectively prioritizing diplomacy with Sudanese President Al-Bashir over justice for the victims of the grave crimes he is alleged to have committed,” the report said.
But the South Africa government said the Rome Statute which formed the ICC conflicts with South Africa’s Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act that protects from arrests diplomats and other visiting officials.
Bashir is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant in 2009 against the Sudanese leader who is supposed to be arrested by countries that subscribe to the Rome Statue.
Amnesty also criticized the Zambian government for cracking down on independent media outlets, including the closure of The Post newspaper and for intimidating and harassing journalists.
The report said authorities in Angola continued to use politically motivated trials, criminal defamation charges and national security laws to suppress critical voices.
“In Democratic Republic of Congo, Pro-democracy activists (were) subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention,” It said.
The rights watchdog said the targeting of human rights defenders and activists had a chilling effect on human rights in the region in 2016.
“A culture of respect for human rights cannot be established when people are unhappy and marginalized in the running of their own countries. Public officials have to be held accountable when their actions violate human rights.” It said