Irony, Zimbabwe Style

Last week, 18 human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe had their bail revoked, sent to prison and then bail granted again the following day after Zimbabwe civil society and the international community responded with outrage. These persons were part of a group of individuals forcibly disappeared late last year by suspected state agents.

Following the re-arrest and then re-release debacle, a story was published in the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper listing the names of police officials and intelligence agents suspected of being involved in the forcible disappearances. The names were drawn directly from court documents filed by the attorney general’s office. However, on Monday, the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, Vincent Kahiya, and the news editor Constantine Chimakure were arrested for publishing falsehoods.

Which begs the obvious question: Did the attorney general “lie” in the court documents, or did the editors “lie” by publishing publically available information that embarrassed the State while it’s seeking to regain the goodwill of international donors? Hmmm.

In other news, The Guardian published a great piece this week about Jenni Williams of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, one of Amnesty International USA’s priority cases in the Individual’s at Risk campaign.

Written by Sarah Hager, Southern Africa Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

"Finding Goodness Where You Least Expect It" – Interview with WOZA Founder Jenni Williams

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Anyone who met Jenni Williams and her colleague Magodonga Mahlangu at AIUSA’s Annual General Meeting this Spring knows what amazing, uncrushable spirits these women have, despite having been jailed, beaten, and threatened repeatedly by Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. But if you weren’t fortunate enough to meet them, or you’d like to get a deeper look into what makes the women of WOZA keep going, check out this great interview with WOZA founder Jenni Williams that was published in the Guardian this past Sunday. She is truly an amazing woman.

Although Jenni and Magodonga expected to have had their trial by now, the trial date has been postponed until July 7th, so they remain in limbo, but they also remain unstoppable!

Not So Merry Go 'Round of Justice in Zimbabwe

It’s a bad time to be defender of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Late last year, Zimbabwe authorities abducted eighteen human rights defenders and political activists.  Their families feared them dead.   Those seized were eventually dropped off at police stations and processed for crimes against the state, including sabotage, terrorism and treason.  During their four months in captivity, the activists claim they were tortured and ill-treated by state agents.

Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was one of those abducted last year.

Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was one of those abducted last year.

Thankfully bail conditions were settled in March and April for most.  However, three of those originally detained – Kisimusi Dhlamini, Gandhi Mudzingwa and Andrison Manyere – were released only to be re-arrested in their hospital beds three days later.

Earlier this week, the eighteen activists reappeared in court where new indictments were filed by the Zimbabwe Attorney General.  Based on the new indictments, bail was revoked and they were all returned to prison.  Following immediate international condemnation, most of the prisoners were granted bail again on Wednesday when President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai intervened and ordered the Attorney General to allow bail.

Not to make light of an awful situation, but the Zimbabwe government might want to consider putting  revolving doors on the courthouse and prisons because apparently, being a human rights defender or political activist in Zimbabwe grants you a “go straight to jail, do not pass go” card on a regular basis.

The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe escalated drastically following elections in March of 2008.  State sponsored violence led to large numbers of torture, disappearances and sexual assaults. Regional authorities negotiated a power sharing agreement in October; however activists and human rights defenders continued to be targeted for their efforts to provide a better quality of life, such as equitable food aid distribution for Zimbabweans.

Listen to a 30 second audio clip of activist Jestina Mukoko after her release in March, discussing the support her and her family received during her ordeal from Amnesty International members.

Written by Sarah Hager, Southern Africa Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

As Zimbabwe turns 29, statements are not enough

As originally posted on the Daily Kos

In advance of talks with Zimbabwe’s finance minister Tendai Biti next weekend in Washington DC, the World Banks Robert Zoellick shared his assessment of the situation:

Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it succeed. But that is going to require steps by all of the members of the Zimbabwe’s institutions to restore democracy, restore human rights.

Reading these statements I remembered a recent chat with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) Executive Director Frank Donaghue who was in Zimbabwe a few months ago. His explanations and PHR’s report leave no doubt over the gravity of the situation and who is responsible for ruining the country’s economy – and with it its health system:

The health and healthcare crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the Mugabe regime and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights, including the right to participate in government and free elections and egregious failure to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The findings contained in this report show, at a minimum, violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, and work. When examined in the context of 28 years of massive and egregious human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe, they constitute added proof of the commission by the Mugabe regime of crimes against humanity.

At the same conference where I met with PHR, the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) spoke about their human rights activism. WOZA represents some of the country’s most courageous human rights defenders. Compared to them, I feel like a wannabe activist. Harassed several times for their activism, they remain at risk of arbitrary arrest and intimidation. Their commitment and leadership is probably the biggest sign of hope for Zimbabwe, and the least we can do is to show them our support and sympathy, and share their story.

The country’s destroyed health system and the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders are painful reminders how far the country still has to go. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a new report just moments ago, stating that:

If the international community stands back with a wait-and-see attitude, the unity government is likely to fail, and Mugabe and the military establishment will entrench themselves again. There should be no alternative to engagement to address pressing socio-economic needs, reinforce new hope and prevent a return to violence and repression.

Obviously, the ICG focuses on the major players in international politics and ignores that the international community includes all of us. So if you don’t want to wait for national governments or international institutions to make a move, here’s your opportunity.

By Christoph Koettl, Crisis Prevention and Response Campaigner at Amnesty International USA

DISCLAIMER: the opinions written above are the author’s alone and should not be considered official Amnesty International policy.