In early 2009, Zimbabwe entered an agreement to form a unity government following contested elections in 2008. Part of that agreement required the establishment of a new constitution through public consultation and a referendum vote by citizens. Due to political maneuvering, purposeful delays, and budget shortcuts that referendum has not occurred. Accordingly, new elections are mandated no later than October 2013. What does all this mean?
It means Zimbabwe, a country without an election free from violence and intimidation in one form or another since really, well, independence, will have elections sooner rather than later. While the opposition party MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) does not have clean hands, most violence is perpetuated by the party with government control for over 30 years, ZANU-PF. Under the unity government, ZANU-PF retained control of security structures in Zimbabwe, and continues to use the police, security agents, and courts to harass, intimidate, threaten and torture civil society members, political opposition figures and human rights defenders.
We are concerned a recent spate of arrests signals an intent to suppress the work of civil society and human rights defenders in the lead up to elections– a pattern seen in the past. The arrest and denial of bail this week of Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association is only the latest incident. Recent months have seen the arrest of staff members at the Counseling Services Unit which provides medical care to victims of political violence, employees of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, and members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, among others.
It is critical the abuses of justice stop in order for Zimbabwe to conduct elections in an atmosphere where the electorate is informed and not intimidated. We are calling on the police commissioner in Zimbabwe to end the harassment of civil society and human rights defenders and allow them the space to work. Raise your voice with us as we help these vital parts of society work without threat.