14 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Rights Official to Spend Weekend Behind Bars

An official from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) who was arrested on Wednesday during a police raid, will be spending the weekend behind bars in Harare.

Five police members stormed the group's offices and arrested Leo Chamahwinya, the ZimRights Education and Programmes Manager. The police accused him of conducting illegal voter registration, but did not lay any charges against him.

He was held at Harare Central Police Station overnight.

One of Chamahwinya's lawyers, Tarisai Mutangi, told SW Radio Africa that his client was formally charged on Friday for 'conspiracy to commit fraud' and will be moved to another detention facility. He will now spend the weekend there until he is brought before a Magistrate on Monday.

SW Radio Africa's Harare correspondent, Simon Muchemwa, said on Friday that intimidation continues to worsen, particularly in areas where "ZANU PF has been rejected." He said it was a sign of "ZANU PF panic" that intimidation of NGO groups has stepped up.

"Intimidation is happening every day, especially in urban centres where ZANU PF is not popular. Basically they are using a system established years ago to clampdown on the activities of NGOs. Clearly no elections can be held in this environment," Muchemwa said.

There has been a spate of incidents of intimidation of human rights groups in recent months. This past week, two officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) were detained for organising an "unsanctioned public meeting" on International Human Rights Day.

Last month several employees from the Counselling Services Unit (CSU), an NGO that provides support to victims of torture and political violence, were arrested and illegally detained because CSU was allegedly in possession of "offensive and subversive material."

And in August the headquarters of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Zimbabwe (GALZ) was ransacked on multiple occasions, during which visibly drunk riot police assaulted GALZ employees and seized office materials. Authorities later attempted to shut down the GALZ operations altogether, charging a co-chairperson with running an "unregistered" organisation.

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