By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe – On Friday, several Zimbabwean rights groups condemned what they suspect is a crackdown against President Robert Mugabe’s critics. In a joint statement, around 58 civic organizations said that human rights activists and journalists, especially those known for criticizing the incumbent administration, have been experiencing a “well-calculated and intensified” harassment through “slander, intimidation, raids, arrests, prosecutions and persecution.” The statement was released a few days after the Chairperson of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Director of Zimrights, Okay Machisa, was arrested.
Machisa was charged with publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, as well as fraud and forgery, after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration. On Monday, he handed himself to the police and has not been released since.
Last month ZimRights Education Programmes Manager Leo Chamahwinya and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson Dorcas Shereni, who are known critics of President Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PPF, were likewise arrested for the same charges.
All three were denied bail last week based on two grounds: that the case is a matter of national interest; and that the investigations are so complex that the prosecution needs more time to complete them.
Local media and civil society groups see these series of arrests as an affront to freedom of expression, justice and democracy. They suggest that these are among the administration’s tactics “to intimidate civil society in the run-up to this year’s elections”. According to them, such measures taken by President Mugabe’s camp are meant to keep NGO’s from influencing the masses on the voting process for the upcoming elections.
These alleged attacks on the press and civil society groups come despite President’s Mugabe’s call for free, fair and peaceful elections last year.
“We condemn this calculated assault on activists that is meant to cow civil society organizations that are fighting for democratic reforms before the next election,” NGO Crisis Coalition stated in a recent press release . “We reiterate our position that the political environment in Zimbabwe is not yet conducive for a free and fair election.”
Crisis Coalition also appealed for regional and international pressure on the Zimbabwe government to respect the rule of law. “Such action is important to militate against a possible surge in the harassment and detention of activists especially as we head toward the general election,” urged the organization.
On January 19, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement condemning the arrests of Machisa and other human rights activists. “We condemn recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment. . . We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe’s rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the OHCHR.
For further information, please see:
Stabroek News – Zimbabwe groups condemn crackdown on Mugabe critics – 19 January 2013
UN News Centre – Zimbabwe: UN condemns attacks on human rights defenders ahead of elections – 18 January 2013
Nehanda Radio – Persecution of human rights defenders unacceptable – 17 January 2013
All Africa – Zimbabwe: Activist Detained for 16 Days – 16 January 2013