8 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Jestina Mukoko Hands Herself in to the Police

Prominent human rights defender Jestina Mukoko handed herself in to the police Friday morning, after claims by Zimbabwe's top cop that she was on the run.

Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri issued a nation-wide appeal on state media saying police wanted to interview Mukoko in connection with operating an "unregistered" and "unlawful" organisation.

"We want her to give us the mission of her organisation, thus anyone with information on where she is, help us," Chihuri appealed Thursday.

Mukoko is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project Trust (ZPP) which, together with other human rights groups, has been a target of recent raids by security agents in a well-orchestrated campaign of intimidation ahead of elections set for this year.

Kumbira Mafunda of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Mukoko went to the police station with her lawyers and was charged with "running an unregistered organisation, taking part in the running of an unregistered organisation, possessing smuggled radios and cellphones, and failing or refusing to register as a dealer".

Mukoko was interrogated and released into the custody of her lawyers.

On Thursday Mtetwa told SW Radio Africa that contrary to claims that the ZPP was unregistered, she had provided its registration papers and Constitution to the police last month.

She said: "We informed the police that ZPP's board had resolved that it be represented by its chairperson, Dr Solomon Zwana, as Mukoko is simply an employee and does not have board authority to speak or act on behalf of ZPP.

"However, police rejected this and insisted they were interested in no-one else but Mukoko. They have used her as an example before and have to use her again as part of election-time intimidation."

Mtetwa described the latest actions by the police as an unjustified crusade against Mukoko, who had been targeted by the state campaign against human rights activists when she was abducted and tortured on spurious treason charges in 2008.

This latest harassment of Mukoko follows a raid on the ZPP offices on February 11th, when mobile phones, wind up radios, files with donor information, political violence reports and DVDs were confiscated.

Civic organisations fear there will be more similar arrests as the country draws closer to next week's referendum, that is set to pave way for a general election.

In January, ZimRights head Okay Machisa was arrested and detained on allegations that his group was involved in an illegal voter registration exercise.

Since last year a number of groups, including the Counselling Services Unit which supports victims of torture and the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network which observes polls, have been raided and staff detained.

Increased harassment of opposition party supporters has also been reported across the country, with some observers predicting that the general poll after the referendum will be bloodier than 2008.

On Thursday Chihuri, a fierce Mugabe loyalist, reiterated the threat issued last month that the police will crack down on civic groups, seen as "causing chaos" and a "serious security threat".

Global human rights organisation Amnesty International said the alert issued by the Zimbabwe police on state television, implying that a human rights defender was on the run from the law, was a new low in the recent crackdown on dissent.

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