Police crackdown on civil society

That President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) party are strongly calling for elections early next year gives a false impression that major steps have been taken to level the political field in preparation for free and fair elections.


However, the developing trend of intensified harassment, intimidation and detention of civil society activists confirms that very little has changed. Politicized and partisan state institutions continue to align themselves with Zanu (PF) in their persecution of civil society actors through a subversion of the rule of law and use of various draconian pieces of legislation.

On December 5, Gwanda police arrested two Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe employees, Fadzai December and Molly Chimhanda, together with MMPZ member, Gilbert Mabusa, for allegedly ‘participating in a gathering without seeking authority from the regulating authority’ and for ‘distributing material that is likely to provoke a breach of peace’.

On December 6, police in Harare raided and picked up MMPZ Project Coordinator, Andrew Moyse, for allegedly possessing some materials on Gukurahundi and confiscated some DVD’s from the organisation’s offices. They later released him after an interrogation which lasted several hours.

The unwarranted acts of harassment and intimidation are not isolated. In recent weeks police have arrested and detained independent media editors and journalists on spurious, politically motivated charges. Zanu (PF) is strongly resisting any reforms to the police and other sections of the security sector to make them genuinely independent, professional and non-partisan. In the absence of such critical security sector re-alignment, Zimbabwe cannot hold free and fair elections.

In light of renewed attempts by state agents to muzzle the independent press and silence civil society actors, Zimbabwe’s civic movement has taken long to rally together in defence of fundamental freedoms. The human rights and democracy community has not always publicly identified with victims of regime brutality for a number of reasons, such as a false sense of security that is derived from maintaining silence when colleagues are under attack. The onslaught on democracy and its defenders will not relent because citizens have chosen the route of silence. Only open defiance and speaking out in defence of our rights can stop this upward trend in rights abuses.

These unfortunate and worrying attacks by the regime show clearly that, contrary to pronouncements by those within Zanu (PF) that Zimbabwe is ready and should go for polls early in 2012, little has changed in our political environment. The political field remains uneven, tilted in favour of Zanu (PF). Under such conditions, there is no way Zimbabwe can hold free and fair elections. It is great wonder why anyone would blindly push for sham elections, unless the idea is for a particular political party to benefit from the uneven political field.

The Southern African Development Community, and particularly South African which is mediating over Zimbabwe’s peace process, should insist that there should be no elections in Zimbabwe until the political field is level, state institutions are independent and guarantees are in place for a free and fair election where violence or intimidation play no part.

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