Pro-democracy and human rights advocates have denounced the detention of a leading Zimbabwean activist.
Okay Machisa (left), director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) is the most recent victim of a concerted crackdown on civil society activists in the run- up to the election later this year.
Machisa was due in court today to face charges “scanning voter registration certificates with false names and misrepresenting that these people had been registered as voters”.
“The continued harassment of civil society leaders in Zimbabwe who are going about their work, is an affront to democracy and a threat to a free and fair electoral environment. It must stop,” said Jameson Timba, a minister in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office.
The onslaught on civil society was a ploy by Zanu PF to prohibit fresh voter registrations because the former sole ruling party had already registered its supporters, according to Theresa Makone, the Home Affairs co-minister.
“Since August of last year, nearly a dozen organizations—including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit, and the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe—have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests, and physical abuse at the hands of police, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights reports:
Political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to Zimbabwean elections. During the nation’s previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe’s hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the police, security forces, and associated militias. With elections once again on the horizon, it is of paramount importance for the Zimbabwean government to cultivate an environment that is conducive to peace, social cohesion, and free and fair polls.
“The increasingly brazen steps to block civic activism are an unsettling reminder of the violence and intimidation that has marred past elections,” said Santiago A. Canton, the RFK Center’s Director of Partners for Human Rights. “In December, President Mugabe resolved to deregister so-called ‘errant’ civic groups that ‘deviate from their mandate’ during his annual political party conference in December.”
“The international community, and in particular, leaders from the Southern African Development Community, must urge the government of Zimbabwe to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against civil society organizations and human rights activists,” he added.
Zimrights is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.