18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: UN Condemns Attacks On Human Rights Defenders Ahead of Elections

Citing arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment, the United Nations human rights arm today condemned recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe ahead of elections expected later this year.

"We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions," Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a briefing in Geneva.

In the latest case, on 14 January, the police pressed charges against Okay Machisa, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

He was accused of publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration. Mr. Machisa handed himself to the police on 14 January, accompanied by his lawyer, and remains in detention.

In a previous incident, ZimRights Education Programmes Manager Leo Chamahwinya and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson Dorcas Shereni were arrested by the police on 13 December 2012.

They were both denied bail by the High Court and remain in detention, Mr. Colville said.

Visiting Zimbabwe for the first time last year, High Commissioner Navi Pillay urged President Mugabe to ensure that the upcoming elections will be free and fair and held in a peaceful atmosphere.

During the visit, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told her that there were still challenges in the country, despite the formation of the Government of National Unity in 2009.

The Government of National Unity was formed as part of an effort to stop the violence that accompanied elections the previous year, when Mr. Tsvangirai ran against Mr. Mugabe in the presidential polls.

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