18 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Rights Official Still Detained a Week After Arrest

An official from the Zimbabwe Association of Human Rights (ZimRights), who was arrested almost a week ago after a police raid on the group's offices, is still being detained in Harare.

The offices were ransacked by police officials last Wednesday and ZimRights Programs manager Leo Chamahwinya was arrested, on allegations of conducting 'illegal' voter registration.

He was held without charge until last Friday, when he was formally accused of 'conspiracy to commit fraud'. He is now still being detained in Harare and his legal team are set to file a bail application in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the ZimRights offices in Bulawayo were raided on Monday, in what is being slammed as a deliberate crackdown on civic groups in Zimbabwe. Staff was questioned during the raid, but no one was arrested.

Dzimbabwe Chimbga, from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), told SW Radio Africa that the police spent more than hour "turning the place upside down," but eventually left empty handed.

"This comes off the back of the arrest of a ZimRights official in Harare and we believe this raid is linked. Police claimed they were looking for subversive material linked to so-called illegal registration of voters. But they didn't find anything," Chimbga said.

The lawyer agreed that civic groups and other NGOs appear to be targeted as part of a deliberate and "ruthless" campaign of intimidation and harassment. Last week, two officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) were detained for organising an "unsanctioned public meeting" on International Human Rights Day. Their detention came just days before ZimRights' Chamawhinya was arrested.

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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