Zimbabwe Police Storm civil society meeting

Heavily armed police officers stormed a meeting of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, in Harare hotel around 12:30 this afternoon disrupting proceedings of an Annual General Meeting (AGM) of its membership, gathered for the administrative business of electing new office bearers.

This happened as South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki, mediator in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing talks, arrived in Zimbabwe for what is expected to be a next leg in his efforts to enforce an unpopular government of national unity.

“They are being very rough, and unreasonable. They are threatening us with arrest and saying that our gathering is illegal”, said Elinor Sisulu, a spokesperson of the group. “This whole attack of civil society flies in the face of the provision the memorandum of understanding of which says that there should be an environment in which social welfare organizations, of which Crisis has a sizeable members who are gathered here today, should be enabled to carry outs their activities without intimidation”.

On July 21, 2008 Mbeki, and the mediating parties MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara and ZANU PF’s Robert Mugabe, co-signed an MOU agreeing to ensure that “they will work together to ensure the safety of any displaced persons and their safe return home and that humanitarian and social welfare organizations are enabled to render such assistance as might be required”.

Five million Zimbabweans face the severe threat of food insecurity, humanitarian groups such as the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) have warned. This is an increase of as many as one million people from last year, the groups say.

Zimbabwe has the highest inflation in the world, a direct consequence of Mugabe’s poor economic policies and massive corruption. Once the breadbasket of the region, the southern African country has become the begging bowl with its current GDP sitting at third worldwide, after the warring territories of Palestine in the Middle East region

“This is completely outrageous,” says Isabella Matambanadzo, Zimbabwe Programme Manager of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, OSISA. “Since 2004 Zimbabwe’s civil society and media groups have been under persistent and systematic attacks by the government.  It is high time that the SADC, AU and UN took these threats against Human rights Defenders seriously. There have been more than enough incidents of rape, deaths and shocking levels of torture to enable the UN to act decisively. Rights groups have documented what shows beyond a shadow of any doubt a systematic project of elimination pioneered by ZANU PF,” she explained.

Zimbabwe’s octogenarian former liberation leader Robert Mugabe, installed himself as president following a self styled election re-run on June 27, in which he claimed that some 85% of the population had voted him into power. The election was condemned as being overshadowed by extremely high levels of violence and intimidation and therefore not free or fair by the region’s electoral observation groups, such as the Pan African Parliament.

“This latest event highlights the need for this mediation to deliver a popular, homegrown constitution that protects citizen’s civil liberties, such as freedom of association and assembly. It is an outrage that while ZANU PF is able to freely organize its members to it uses its power and influence over the police to prevent others from enjoying such a fundamental rights”.

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