24 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Police Undermine Voter-Education


President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have been making repeated calls for peace as the nation gears for a referendum and an election in the coming few months.

The two principals appear to have found common ground on many contentious issues facing the inclusive government, but their calls seem superficial, judging by the events of the past few days.

While they have been preaching peace, tolerance and the respect of the rule of law, police have embarked on a campaign to harass civil society organisations by intensifying arbitrary searches, arrests and detention on spurious charges.

A case in point is how they have hounded the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) over the past few days.

Zesn is a registered organisation that seeks to promote a culture of democratic elections in the country and has been working in Zimbabwe openly since 2000.

Yet on February 19, armed police broke down a perimeter fence and searched the offices for subversive material. They left with documents detailing their plans to observe the referendum.

Earlier, unknown assailants had broken into the organisation's offices in Masvingo and emptied drawers, before taking away a computer, some documents and t-shirts.

Police, who announced a ban on shortwave radios, also raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project and Nango and arrested an official of the Centre for Community Development of Zimbabwe.

This crackdown on civil society organisations is not surprising given that a referendum is only a few weeks away, and an election earmarked for June. The motive of the police is clear: to stop civil society organisations from conducting voter education.

The police actions, which are partisan, underscore the need for security sector reform before Zimbabwe holds any credible election that can end the prevailing political uncertainty. Without genuine reforms, the police, the army and the Central Intelligence Organisation cannot be trusted to be impartial in their duties.

Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube should push Mugabe to quickly rein in the police and stop actions that undermine Zimbabweans' right to participate in democratic elections.

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