Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
It is time for SADC and South Africa, in particular, to denounce the crackdown on civil society groups by Zimbabwe’s totally partisan, pro-ZANU-PF police. In the latest raid, police have searched the premises of the Bulawayo-based Radio Dialogue and confiscated 180 short wave radios - as well as interrogating one of the organisation's senior officials.
It is the latest in a series of targeted attacks by the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation on groups that are working to promote democracy, access to information and free and fair elections. Once a week, the police pick an organisation and launch a raid – confiscating items and often arresting staff – in order to intimidate them into silence.
This daylight robbery by the police of Radio Bulawayo’s radios comes just two days after three UN Special Rapporteurs urged today the Zimbabwean government to respect international human rights norms and standards after they had received an increasing numbers of reports about acts of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests against civil society actors, mostly working on human rights issues.
They now have another example to add to the list.
“In the context of proposed constitutional reforms and the elections, it is disturbing and shocking to learn that civil society organizations that have been operating for years, including election monitoring groups which aim to promote free and fair elections, have been searched by police,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.
“Search procedures must not be applied selectively, and the right to privacy needs to be respected. Otherwise, the independence of associations and the safety of their members will be seriously at risk,” he emphasized.
For several months, a number of civil society organizations have been subjected to searches by police. During these searches, several items, including files with donor information, annual reports and human rights documents, have been seized.
“The on-going practice of arrests against the activists could seriously hamper the right to freedom of expression,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. “The Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that such measures are applied in accordance with international standards and everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation.”
Needless to say the police have ignored the calls by the three Special Rapporteurs and are clearly sticking to their plan, which appears to involve targeting one organisation each week – to undermine their specific work and the critical work of civil society as a whole. In recent weeks the police have also targeted the offices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), among others.
Since Mugabe’s party and the police will not listen to the UN, it is time for South African President Jacob Zuma and SADC to take a firm stance – denouncing the crackdown and demanding that the police cease their raids immediately since there is no chance of holding free and fair elections given the current circumstances.ShareThis