The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Southern Defenders) has described Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union (ARTUZ) president Obert Masaraure's recent arrest as unlawful and a misuse of the justice system.
Masaraure was arrested, Tuesday, when he availed himself in accordance with bail conditions in a different matter.
He was charged with murder stemming from a 2016 incident that saw an ARTUZ member Roy Issa plunging to his death from Jameson hotel's seventh floor.
Investigations in 2016 indicated that Masaraure was nowhere near the scene when Issa fell to his death.
Then police spokesperson Charity Charamba said it was a suicide.
"When the incident occurred, Obert was not at the scene, which was corroborated by several witnesses whom the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) interviewed at the time," said the Southern Defenders, an umbrella coalition of human rights defenders in the southern Africa.
"Findings by a Harare Magistrates Court Inquest on the incident concluded that there was no foul play.
"As Southern Defenders, we are deeply disturbed by the unlawful arrest and detention of Obert where there is no substantial evidence of a crime or his involvement. His case clearly points to the misuse of the criminal justice system to target him.
"Obert is one of the leading human rights defenders in Zimbabwe and is at the forefront in fighting for the rights of teachers, as well as the right to education in the country."
Masaraure, whose arrest came barely a week after he was awarded the 2022 Front Line Defenders award in Dublin, Ireland, is currently detained at Chikurubi Maximum prison while awaiting the hearing of his bail application.
"For the record, I was never invited for the inquest into the death of Cde Roy because I was never a witness. My Cdes who were using the room submitted evidence and my name was never mentioned, because I was at home with my wife and family," said Masaraure in a letter after his arrest.
"The Security at Jameson Hotel made submissions and my name was never mentioned because I was not at the scene. I feel sorry for the Issa family who are being forced to revisit this painful part of their history."
The regional body noted Masaraure's arrest is part of a series of abuses targeted at government critics, journalists, democracy and human rights activists as the nation draws closer to the 2023 general elections.
"Southern Defenders is further concerned that the arrest of Obert takes place
in a worrying pre-election context.
"It is a year ahead of the country's General Elections and Southern Defenders has noted an increasing number of cases of attacks, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in retaliation of their legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights in Zimbabwe," added Southern Defenders.
The institution further demanded the unconditional release of Masaraure, an end to carefree abuse of human rights defenders, and guarantee that the state will end the onslaught.