Zimbabwe: Human Rights Defenders hunted through the criminal process in run up to referendum

March 9, 2013

Jestina Mukoko with letters from Amnesty International members

(Jestina Mukoko with letters from AI members © Amnesty International)

15 Zimbabwean Civil Society Organizations, on 9 March 2013 issued a joint statement condemning the sustained and escalating assault on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision by the State. The cite as the latest example the charging of Jestina Mukoko on which AI issued a separate alert on 8 March:  “Prominent Zimbabwe human rights defender hunted down through the media”.
The criminalization of the work of civil society by the Government of National Unity is in direct contradiction with the letter and Spirit of the Global Political Agreement. It appears to us that the persecution of Jestina, who is not at anytime a fugitive from justice, is a direct victimization of an individual, who has been a victim of abduction by State security agents. State actions against Jestina were condemned by the Supreme Court and her prosecution quashed.We have over a lengthy period of time taken note and documented the intensive harassment and obstruction of the work of CSOs through intimidations, raids, issuance of vague and generalised search warrants, arrests, persecution and prosecution. Such harassment is meant to discredit civil society as unpatriotic and devoid of national interest. The relentless assault on CSOs and accusing them of several unfounded misdemeanors is to suggest to the public the existence of a wide-ranging conspiracy targeting the stability of the country and to paint civil society organisations as a danger to State security.Zimbabwean authorities, particularly the police, are fully aware of the role of civil society in a democracy but they have deliberately elected to mislead public opinion about our legitimate activities and continuously seek to impeach us on flimsy grounds. We unequivocally deny all the insinuations and willful misrepresentations of our legitimate work. These allegations are meant to distract the attention of the public and international community from the important issues which the country is faced with. The issues include, among others, the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement, the holding of free and fair elections and critical institutional and legislative reforms meant to incubate the respect of the will of the people.We hold the three political parties that form the inclusive government as responsible for the current crackdown on CSOs. Their failure to stop the unjustified attacks on CSOs, is testimony that they are involved in the coordination and implementation of the attacks and are not concerned with the challenges faced by those outside their ivory towers.

The 15 NGOs are:  Combined Harare Residents Association; Counselling Services Unit; Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition; Kubatana; Media Alliance of Zimbabwe; National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations; National Constitutional Assembly; Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe; Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions; Zimbabwe Election Support Network; Zimbabwe Human Rights Association; Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum; Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights; Zimbabwe Peace Project; Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association

According to AI the alert issued by Zimbabwe police on state television implying that prominent human rights defender Jestina Mukoko was on the run from the law “is a new low in the recent crackdown on dissent”. On Thursday night, Zimbabwe state-owned television ran two announcements implying that Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was on the run and the announcements urged  members of the public to call the police with any information about her whereabouts. Mukoko, who was at her home when the announcements were made, voluntarily reported to Harare Central Police station Friday morning. She was charged with  several counts then released into the custody of her lawyers. “It is appalling that at this critical time when Zimbabwe is in the process of adopting a new constitution which provides a stronger bill of human rights, human rights defenders are coming under systematic attack,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s southern Africa director.Amnesty-Internationa

Mukoko was charged with  several counts including operating a private voluntary organisation without registration under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act. ZPP is registered under a deed of trust with the High Court like most other human rights groups in Zimbabwe. Early in February, the ZPP was raided by police who had a warrant to search for “subversive material and illegal immigrants.”  They seized material including project documents, four smart phones and 80 solar-powered/crank radio receivers. On 19 February the police announced a ban on short wave radios in Zimbabwe. It is not clear under which law this ban was made and how it will be implemented. However, following the ban, police searched the offices of Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo and seized 180 radios and charged Zenzele Ndebele, the station manager, under section 182 of the Customs and Exercise Act.  The ban on short wave radio receivers is seen as an attempt by police to curb access to alternative sources of news as the country prepares for the constitutional referendum on 16 March and a possible election in July.

AI’s Kututwa added: “The referendum scheduled for next weekend and the elections that follow must take place in an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms.”



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