Crackdown on civic groups continues as police raid ZESN offices
By Violet Gonda
Police have been criticized for intensifying their crackdown on civil
society organizations, after the latest raid on the Zimbabwe Election
Support Network (ZESN) offices in Harare.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras, who is also vice
chairperson of ZESN, said officers raided the offices on Tuesday looking for
subversive material, documents, gadgets or recordings and illegal
Petras told SW Radio Africa that the police search warrant was the same as
the one used to raid the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project recently.
“The raids are carried out by the Law and Order unit of the police but we
don’t know where the instructions are coming from. It’s quite confusing. One
minute we hear from politicians that they have been discussing this, and
that attacks on civil society organizations are going to cease, and the next
minute there is a raid of another organization.
“So it seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,”
Petras said the police are on a fishing expedition to gather information and
intelligence to try and disrupt the work of key organisations as the country
prepares for the referendum and elections.
Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya was facilitating a Political Parties
Finance Act review planning meeting at the ZESN offices when the police came
to search the premises. He said it was ironic that ZANU PF had also sent its
participants to this meeting.
A ZESN statement said police broke down a durawall panel and went on to
search all offices, after which they took documents pertaining to ZESN’s
projects and plans for observing the referendum. Earlier that same day the
organisation’s Masvingo office had also been broken into at 2 am and
boardroom chairs, one computer and 60 t-shirts were taken by unidentified
State sponsored intimidation appears to be increasing as the country
prepares to go to the polls.
Last week scores of activists from the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe
Arise were beaten and arrested during anti-police brutality demonstrations
in Harare and Bulawayo. It’s reported that at least 25 WOZA members had to
seek medical attention after their treatment at the hands of police. One
woman had to have three teeth removed after having been struck in the face.
A Newsday journalists was arrested on Monday at Mutare police station where
he had gone to make a report after he had been threatened with death by a
suspended Zanu PF provincial youth chairman.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association says the ZESN crackdown brings to a
total of seven civic groups that have fallen victim to police raids within a
space of two months.
Meanwhile WOZA activist, Bertha Sibanda, who disrobed inside the Bulawayo
police station in protest after she was beaten during their demonstration
last week, was released on bail Monday after spending the weekend in
detention. Last month a ZANU PF activist Sheila Mutsenhu removed her clothes
in front of the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, protesting the targeted sanctions
imposed by western countries. She wasn’t arrested.
WOZA said in a statement: “It is clear that if you are a member of Zanu PF
you can strip without consequence in front of the American ambassador but if
you happen to be a member of WOZA, you are denied access to food, held in
police custody for 4 days then you are arraigned before court that will
continue to use scarce resources to persecute you by prosecution.”
Last week co-Home Affairs Minister Teresa Makone revealed that cabinet had
discussed the unwarranted harassment and arrest of innocent citizens.
Although the minister is in charge of the police, she admitted that she does
not have the power to make the police respect the rule of law.
Ngwenya said both Makone and deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu have to make
an effort, even if their hands are tied.
“We want to see serious sounds, we want to hear vibrations, we want to hear
protests, we want to hear them even talk about litigation. We want to see
Teresa Makone getting out meetings with civil society and the police to
Ngwenya added: “Even if they do not have any legitimate power to do anything
there is nothing that stops them from making the right noises. There is so
much lethargy and paralysis in those two ministries that we wonder if they
are just sitting on the leeward side of the gravy train and forgetting about
When contacted for comment Minister Makone said she was in parliament. We
could not reach Gutu or ZANU PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo.
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