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Treatment of human rights defenders: A key benchmark to the credibility of forthcoming referendum and elections
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
February 12, 2013

Introduction

The operating environment for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe has remained heavily constricted. Human rights defenders are still viewed as enemies of the state working towards effecting illegal regime change in the country. This has resulted in continued attacks and persecution of the human rights defenders (ZHRF, Crisis, and ZLHR). There is also a growing international concern about the latest wave of crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which are expected to take place later this year (UN OHCHR, EU). On 23 February 2012, Zimbabwe was cited as being amongst a number of countries that have witnessed an increase in attacks on human rights defenders (HRDs) in their homes or offices and intimidation of HRDs by the judicial authorities (Frontline Defenders). The situation has since deteriorated since this citation, with Zimbabwe being in the spotlight again during the EU-Human rights NGOs forum on 7 December 2012.

Analysts' opinions on the motives behind the latest crackdown are varied. However one of the leading arguments is that with the European Union due to revisit the restrictive measures on Zimbabwe on 18 February 2013, ZANU PF is generally reluctant to see these measures go as this might potentially pave way for international observers to monitor Zimbabwe's forthcoming elections. According to this analysis, the crackdown on civil society is yet another tantrum and attempts to throw a spanner in the works of Zimbabwe's democratisation project.

Similarly, the clampdown is definitely a well calculated move to disenfranchise human rights coalitions so as to disable them from carrying out their necessary work of voter mobilisation. The government actions are a battle sound and a warning to both organised and general civil society that the elections will be carried according to their own terms and dictates, with fear being the soundtrack during periods prior, during and after the elections.

This report is an attempt to capture some of the major incidents relating to HRDs in the past one and a half years. It sheds light on patterns and trends and the evidence it generates can help inform appropriate interventions. It is a generally shared view that the work of human rights defenders in mobilising and empowering citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote in the forthcoming constitutional referendum and subsequent elections is crucial for the credibility of both processes. For instance, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), in their statement on the draft constitution are calling for an open, vibrant and comprehensive sensitisation process, free from violence, and in which all views are respected and tolerated. According to ZLHR, 'this is in line with [our] unwavering belief in freedom of association, freedom of expression and access to diverse information that allows Zimbabweans to make informed choices . . . without negative repercussions (ZLHR, 11.02.2013). The extent to which the government allows human rights defenders to carry out their lawful work is therefore a key benchmark to the credibility of the forthcoming processes and should be taken into account in the international community's relations with Zimbabwe.

Timeline

30.03.2011: The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Executive Director Mr. Abel Chikomo was formally charged for "managing and controlling the operations of an illegal Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO)", under Section 6 (3) as read with subsection 1 of the PVO Act [1]. The case followed the summoning of Mr. Abel Chikomo by Bulawayo Law and Order police regarding the Forum's public campaign against torture on November 11, 2010, after it was alleged that billboards put up by the Forum and calling on the Government of Zimbabwe to ratify the Convention Against Torture and to outlaw torture were offensive. Prior to that, on 9 February 9, 2011, two researchers from the Forum's Transitional Justice Unit had been detained and questioned for carrying out a national transitional justice survey.

24.11.2011: Three staff of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum's member organisation, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, (MMPZ) was arrested in Gwanda. The three were charged under the Public Order and Security Act in connection with a community meeting on public information rights. The release of the three was granted on 16.12.11 and they were remanded out of custody until 15.01.12.

04.01.2012: In a case perceived to be politically motivated, WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu appeared in court on charges of kidnapping and theft. As on 11 February 2013, the case is still pending.

23.01.2012: Joel Hita, a senior official with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) was charged with organising a photograph exhibition in Masvingo showing the violence of the 2008 election period but was acquitted on 23.01.2012.

08.02.2012: Nine members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, including WOZA leader Jenni Williams and five by-standers, were arrested and mistreated in custody in Bulawayo as they were meeting JOMIC to report concerns of violations of rights by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. JOMIC is a body constituted under Zimbabwe's political agreement to monitor violations of the agreement, among others tasks.

28.02.2012: Human rights activist Paul Chizuze of the Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT) disappeared and has not been seen since 8.2.12.

29.02.2012: Following the purported banning of NGO's in Masvingo, some NGOs are being forced to pay exorbitant fees by local authorities before they are allowed to carry out their work (CSOs joint statement).

02.03.2012: 29 residents of Glenview accused of murdering police officer Petros Mutedza were indicted and the trial was to begin in the High Court on 12.3.12 in a case believed to be politically motivated.

07.03.2012: COTRAD, a youth organisation reported on the suppression of an attempted demonstration against the banning of 29 NGO's in the Province. COTRAD offices are raided and materials impounded by 'unidentified men'.

26.03.2012: The conviction of Munyaradzi Gwisai and the five others for watching a video on the Arab Spring is described as harsh and could be perceived, by a reasonable person, as delivering a political message (ZLHR Legal Monitor).

29.05.2012: Police in Bulawayo stopped a BPRA leadership training workshop and confiscated materials (Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA).

26.06.2012: Five employees of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) were briefly arrested and detained during the week in Karoi as they attempted to hold legal clinics (ZimRights)

11.08.2012: Forty-four members of Zimbabwe's LGBT organization - GALZ - were arrested by riot police squad and released without being charged. The riot squad and police officers were reported to have assaulted most of the members using baton sticks, open hands and clenched fists before detaining them without charge.

06.10.12. ZLHR observes that lawyers in Zimbabwe have been threatened and harassed in the course of performing their duties. In a petition, they note that, in recent months, the operating environment for members of the legal profession, particularly for human rights lawyers, has shrunk to the extent that it has become almost impossible for them to perform their professional duties and functions as Officers of the Court

05.11.12. The police crackdown against NGO's was reinstated as riot police raided the Counselling Services Unit in Harare. Five staff members; Fidelis Mudimu, Zachariah Godi, James Zidzimu, Tafadzwa Gesa and Penn Bruno were reportedly arrested and taken into custody at Harare Central Police Station. According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the police said they were searching for material that 'defaces any house, building, wall, fence, lamp post, gate, elevator without the consent of the owner or occupier' and in contravention of section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

12.11.12. Seventy nine members and two babies were arrested and detained at Bulawayo Central police station for staging a peaceful protest about the water situation in the city.

08.12.12. Concern was expressed at the on-going harassment of human rights activists following the arrest in Gweru of 29 community educators with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN). Police released 27 of the group but opened a docket charging two ZESN representatives with allegedly organising and failing to notify the police of an unlawful gathering in contravention of Section 24 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

10.11.12. Press reports indicate that two leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Union were briefly arrested in Bulawayo as they attempted to march in the city centre to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

13.12.12. In the on-going crackdown against NGO's, a News Alert reports that 5 police officers conducted a raid on the Harare Head Offices of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights). Deputy National Programmes Co-ordinator was reportedly arrested on charges of conducting illegal voter registration. ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, Leo Chamahwinya, and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni, were arrested and were both denied bail by the High Court and remain in detention.

14.01.2013. Police arrested and charged Okay Machisa, the Director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, for allegedly publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration.

05.02.2013: In Lupane, Matabeleland North Province, police arrested two National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) members and charged them with contravening Section 40 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) for allegedly possessing voter registration receipts.

06.02.2013: Police summon Dumisani Nkomo, the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust to Plumtree Police Station to answer to charges of inciting hatred at a meeting allegedly held last week in Plumtree.

06.02.13. The Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment gazetted regulations dated 18th January, to be effective immediately, in terms of section 26 of the Zimbabwe Youth Council Act. Among other requirements, the regulations state that that no youth association may operate without being registered in terms of the procedure detailed in the regulations; that registered associations must submit annual reports and accounts, and annual work plans and budgets to the Council; that every registered association must pay an annual levy to the Council by the 15th February each year. The regulations are allegedly ultra-vires the governing Act.

11.02.13: Plain clothed police officers raided offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) in Hillside armed with a search warrant and quickly started ransacking the offices and in the process confiscating ZPP files and equipment.

11.02.13. Police raided National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) Offices in Masvingo where another youth organisation, COTRAD is housed. Police are said to have demanded registration papers from COTRAD and also wanted to know if they are registered with The Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC). Police are said to have force marched two employees, Benias Tirivavi of NANGO and Zivanai Muzorodzi of COTRAD, to Masvingo police station where they were further interrogated and detained for more than two hours.

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