Civil Society Coalitions, which represent hundreds of member organisations in Zimbabwe, met in Harare on Thursday and issued a collective response to the intensifying crackdown on human rights defenders and political activists in the country.
The gathering of key groups came in the wake of a police raid on the offices of the Counselling Services Unit (CSU) on Monday, which saw three staff members arrested and computers and files confiscated by the police. The CSU offers counselling and medical support to victims of violence and torture.
The CSU police raid brought many angry reactions from around the country and the world, mobilised civil society and, more importantly, cast a spotlight on the abusive, partisan and illegal actions of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
The raiding team included officers from the bomb disposal squad and an information technology expert. Armed riot police who surrounded the building also threatened to fire tear gas, which scared other tenants who occupy the building and frightened away traumatised clients who were scheduled for treatment.
In addition, the police confiscated a computer with confidential client files. This was not listed on the search warrant they produced. The seizure of these files was completely illegal and characterises the behaviour of the police in Zimbabwe.
Abel Chikomo, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, told SW Radio Africa that the Coalitions felt it necessary to issue a strong statement condemning recent police actions because they have a lasting effect on the general population, which determines how they act during elections.
"It's about the communities, the people, the electorate itself. The people will look at it and say 'if they can arrest and torture those activists like they are doing, what about me?' Some people will end up shying away from processes that have to do with them. Processes to do with governance and so forth," Chikomo explained.
Asked why the police would target a group like CSU, which helps victims of political violence, Chikomo said: "My suspicion is that they want to make sure there is no avenue that people have to access medical support when they are victimised by political violence and torture."
He added that places like the government-run Parirenyatwa Hospital require victims to produce a police report before they can receive medical treatment. The CSU is not partisan and does not require clearance from the police.
The Civil Society Coalitions who issued the statement include the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, National Constitutional Assembly, Women's Coalition, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.