Five people were arrested on Monday after an NGO that offers counselling services for victims of torture and abuse, was raided by at least 20 policemen.
A group of about 10 plain clothed policemen and a truckload of riot police officers stormed the Counselling Services Unit (CSU) offices early Monday afternoon, armed with a search warrant. The police, led by Detective Assistant Inspector Henry Dowa and Detective Assistant Inspector Murira, said their raid was aimed to recover "offensive and subversive material" from the organisation's offices in Harare.
According to the search warrant, the police were searching for any material that "defaces any house, building, wall, fence, lamp post, gate, elevator without the consent of the owner or occupier thereof," in contravention of section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
CSU staff were barred from leaving the building during the raid, which saw the police officers lay siege to the premises for several hours. Eventually police arrested five CSU staff members and confiscated some documents and a computer. The police also briefly apprehended a photojournalist from the Daily News who was trying to take pictures of the police action. According to the Human Rights NGO Forum, the photojournalist was released after his camera was confiscated.
The arrested CSU staff members are Fidelis Mudimu, Zachariah Godi, James Zidzimu, Tafadzwa Gesa and Penn Bruno who were taken into custody at Harare Central Police Station. According to SW Radio Africa's Harare correspondent, Simon Muchemwa, it was not yet clear by late Monday afternoon what the arrested group would be charged with.
Muchemwa explained that there is growing fear that the raid is part of a worsening crackdown on human rights groups and other NGOs in Zimbabwe, ahead of elections expected next March. He said the raid highlights that there have been no significant changes to the security sector since the 2008 elections, and the same intimidation and harassment that helped ZANU PF cling to power then is still feared now.
These concerns were also echoed by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group on Monday, who said the raid on the CSU was part of a wider crackdown against the NGO community in Zimbabwe. The group explained that the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe offices were raided twice in August, after the police claimed that the organisation and its leaders were in "possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution".