20 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Lawyer Slams 'State Crackdown' On Zimrights

A human rights lawyer in Harare has slammed what he called a deliberate 'crackdown' on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), which has been targeted by the state with arrests and intimidation.

The ZimRights offices in Harare and Bulawayo have both been raided by police in the past week, with one official from the capital being arrested last Wednesday. ZimRights programs manager Leo Chamahwinya has remained in detention at Harare remand prison since last week, after being charged with 'conspiracy to commit fraud'.

He was originally arrested on allegations that he was involved in 'illegal voter registration'. His lawyer, Trust Maanda, told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that Chamahwinya's case now also involves three other individuals that the state has dragged in to implicate him.

"We don't actually know who they are. They don't work for ZimRights. They were arrested two days before Leo and the state is alleging that they implicated Leo. But they don't even know him," Maanda said.

The other three individuals are Dorcas Shereni, Tanaka Chinaka and Farai Bhani who are all being accused of forgery, fraud and publishing 'false statements'. The state has alleged that the group forged voter registration certificates "to tarnish the name of the Registrar General."

"But this is clearly a way of targeting NGOs ahead of elections. There is a general crackdown on NGOs and this is a deliberate target on ZimRights," Maanda explained.

One of the three individuals arrested before Chamahwinya has told lawyers that he was beaten by 'violent youths' who ransacked his home early last week. Maanda said that these youths then dragged his client to the police, who then accused him of holding the forged documents.

All four of the accused deny the charges against them but still remain in detention. Maanda explained that a bail application was made this week, but the judge has reserved making a decision until Friday.

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