16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Zimrights Director Denied Bail

The director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Okay Machisa, has been denied bail and will spend the next two weeks behind bars in Harare.

Machisa was arrested on Monday on allegations of involvement in 'illegal voter registration. He is accused of publishing false statements with the intention of 'inciting public disorder and violence'.

State prosecutors on Wednesday alleged that Machisa obtained a voter registration form and made counterfeit copies, ahead of elections scheduled for later this year. The court denied the activist bail, insisting the charges are 'serious'. He will now only appear in court on January 30th.

Four other people, including Machisa's deputy Leo Chamahwinya, are also in police custody facing similar charges. The four, who were arrested over a month ago, were also denied bail by a High Court judge because of the 'serious' nature of the charges against them. The state has alleged that the group forged voter registration certificates "to tarnish the name of the Registrar General."

There has been growing criticism and concern about this crackdown on the NGO community in the recent months. Last November 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.

Meanwhile, Stendrick Zvorwadza from the Restoration of Human Rights Zimbabwe, is likely to return to court soon after spending almost a week behind bars. He was arrested last Wednesday for 'disorderly conduct' at a police station and was kept in police custody for six days.

Police allege that he used 'improper language' at the police station where he had gone to follow up on a fraud case he had previously filed. Zvorwadza's legal representative from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Tarisai Mutangi, told SW Radio Africa that his client was finally released into his custody on Monday after the Attorney General's office said more investigations were needed.

ROHR Zimbabwe said in a statement that there are "high suspicions that Zvorwadza is being punished for expressing his disappointment to law enforcers for failing to resolve a pending case that is in the hands of the police."

Zvorwadza meanwhile has said he believes he is being persecuted for threatening to expose a senior police boss who is covering for a Chinese national caught up on the wrong side of the law.

Mutangi meanwhile said that, although there is no way to know if Zvorwadza's arrest is connected to the current crackdown against he NGO community, "it is possible."

"It is possible that such harassment is being hidden behind charges that look on the surface to be unrelated," Mutangi said.

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