«L’OBSERVATOIRE EL OBSERVATORIO pour la Protection des Défenseurs para la Protección de los Defensores de des Droits de l’Homme Derechos Humanos ...»
4. Death threats, harassment and intimidation acts
Death threats are commonly used against the defenders, and are particularly directed to the most prominent figures in the human rights community. Such threats are usually received by phone calls or letters or even face-to-face interactions. Examples of such threats are documented in the section under experiences.
Furthermore, both the police and CIO have adopted systematic tactics to intimidate, harass and spread fear among NGO representatives, particularly in Mutare and Bulawayo. Indeed, most of NGOs representatives the mission met in the two regions described the numerous incidents in which members of their organisations were subjected to various methods of threats, harassment and intimidations. For instance, members of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace - Mutare and representatives of Christian Alliance9 in Bulawayo and the Midland gave accounts on how the members of their organisations were frequently summoned by the police for questioning and interrogation in an intimidating way, received threats and nauseous phone calls and in some cases they were required to make their whereabouts known to the police.
5. Defamation and media hate propaganda
Recently, the Zimbabwe Government and the security agencies have embarked on a new tactic of defamation and media hate propaganda, employing the largely State owned media outlets against it opponents, targeting in particular lawyers and journalists. Writers and columnists known by their affiliation or support to ZANU-PF have written “hate messages” against HRDs, most commonly portraying them as traitors and agents to the west and other degrading description.
6. Abductions and enforced disappearances
Abductions and enforced disappearances are one of the common practices that were frequently used against human rights defenders as well as political opponents. Abductions of defenders and activists usually take place from home streets or offices. Following abduction victims are usually taken to a remote and deserted building or farm where they are subjected to physical and psychological torture including beating and bunching. Verbal abuse usually including insult and threats with death and rape particularly against female victims. Usually victims after being subjected to such maltreatment and abuses are dumped in streets of deserted places and in some occasions they might be taken back home.
7. Restrictions on public meetings and events
NGOs, community and religious groups are required to inform the police before holding public meetings, prayers or any other public forms of meetings. Despite the fact that there is no legal ground for such requirement, the police insist they should be informed before organising such a meeting. When failing to comply with such a demand, the organisers face breaking into their meetings and subsequent arrest of the organisers. In this context, the Church in Zimbabwe started to awaken to the political pressures in the country when some of its members were arrested for engaging into prayers on issues of governance and corruption in Zimbabwe. Like other human rights defenders, church leaders and faith based groups including pastors and members of the Christian faith have continued to be intimidated, harassed, physically abused and barred from holding their religious events that provide for a discussion of politically sensitive issues in Zimbabwe. For instance, pastors are frequently arrested and barred from holding public religious prayers and in some cases police would lock and prevent access to prayers venues for the public (a number of prayer meetings and prayer rallies were disrupted and in some instances even cancelled with posters announcing such meetings torn, vandalised and at times sealing off the venues where these meetings are planned).
Police officers in some instances refused to grant permission to the Christian Alliance to organise public prayers mostly because of the incidence that had happened in Kadoma on January 28, 2007. A number of pastors like Pastor Mwehegensi who were key in organising such prayer meetings under the “Save the Zimbabwe” campaign10 have been summoned by the Central Intelligence Organisation a number of times and, beaten up for organising prayer meetings that focus on the governance of country and criticising the Government. In some cases, the NGOs are required to make the agenda or the content of the speech to be disclosed to the police prior to the meeting.
However, some of the Bulawayo police authorities and local authorities have taken it upon themselves to create even more stringent requirements for human rights defenders to hold meetings. In some instances, the authorities have required the National Constitution Assembly (NCA) before organising public meetings to present to them the meeting agenda, which the police are at liberty to dictate on and to change in terms of duration of the meeting, speakers and at what time it should be scheduled.
Christian Alliance is an organised network of Christian leaders and organisations whose purpose is to be “instrumental in resolving the crisis in the country peacefully and permanently so that Zimbabweans can again live in freedom, peace and prosperity”.
The Save Zimbabwe Campaign is a coalition of religious and other civil society groups which main activity is to bring together the main political players in Zimbabwe in order to help to contribute to the return to political stability in Zimbabwe.
8. Denial of food supply and other basic services With the current economic crisis and shortage of food and fuel supplies in Zimbabwe, the majority of the population in the country - particularly in the rural areas - are heavily dependant on food aids and food supplies and quotas to be provided by the governments and the other relevant agencies controlled by the Government. Members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and members of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign both explained that the Government and the agencies controlled by ZANU-PF use food as weapons against the affiliate of their organisations. The people who are suspected to support the ZCTU usually receives less amount than the food quotas, and it was clearly explained to them by the officials that if they want to receive food supplies as the others they would have to distant themselves from such organisations. Members of ZimRights in Bulawayo who are seen attending meeting organised by their organisation are also not beneficiaries to the food distribution.
Likewise, some members of the NCA in Kipinge (180 km from Mutare town) are also victimised and not given food. However, the NCA members decided to try and grow their own food to mitigate this.
The mission was informed that the politicisation of food distribution was even worse in Manika land since Mutare is historically seen as the home of the opposition party MDC.
9. Restriction on freedom of movement and travel abroad Despite the fact that there is no formal or legal ban from travelling abroad in place against HRDs, in reality the latter have reported a number of incidents where they have been hassled, questioned, intimidated and delayed when they intend to travel abroad for human rights or similar political events. For example, during the SADC heads of States meeting in August 2007, in Zambia, a Peoples’ Summit was organised parallel to the meeting. Members of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) were denied entry to Zambia and were sent back to Zimbabwe where their leaders, including Ms. Janet Mudzuiti, were interrogated by the Chirundi police and detained for two days. They were later released with no charges laid on them.
10. Access to financial resources and restriction on bank transaction
As said above, in early 2008, ZLHR had been waiting for two months for foreign currency to undertake programming and had not received money from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. ZHLR is contemplating suing the Bank as their programming is crippled and are unlikely to meet with contractual obligations in terms of contracts with partners, which creates complications for future funding. According to ZLHR, this is a very calculated, direct, subtle and potentially crippling attack to incapacitate HRDs from delivering in promotion and protection of human rights without taking brazen action that would invite a political attention to the government especially in the run up to these elections. Regrettably ZLHR is not the only organisation that has faced this type of subtle attack after depositing donor funds with the commercial banks. To that extent, the National Association of NGOs (NANGO) has tried to engage with the Reserve bank authorities on this strategy that human rights defenders views as an expropriation of assets strategy, but to no avail.
III. INDIVIDUAL RECOUNTS AND EXPERIENCES OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERSThis section attempts to record some of the experiences and testimonies the human rights defenders have undergone in the past one year or so and in the run up to the March 29, 2008 harmonised Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
A. Human rights defenders of civil and political rights
1. Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) is a representative body of students in higher and tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe. With a membership of over 10,000 students, ZINASU is an outspoken student movement defending academic freedoms11 of its members in Zimbabwe. The union also focuses on advocacy of issues of human rights of the people of Zimbabwe, free and fair elections and political and public accountability. As a founder member of the MDC, ZINASU has been engaged in both constructive dialogues with the government as well as a more aggressive strategy in some cases, using methods like peaceful marches, petitions, and campaigns on issues of academic freedoms for students in Zimbabwe. As a result, ZINASU has been a prime target of State overt and covert brutality and oppressive tactics and strategies.
Mass eviction of students at the University of Zimbabwe - UZ (June 2007)
On June 27, 2007, a notice appeared on the UZ notice boards directing University students to pay to a top up fees of ZW$ 1,000,000 to feed university students. Deadline of payment was set for June 29, 2007. Mr. Lovemore Chinoputsa, a student leader, filed an urgent chamber application with the High Court for the indictment of evictions and payment of top up fees. By June 29, only 12 out of the 5,600 students had paid the top-up. On July 7, students staged peaceful demonstrations at UZ campus, to which heavily armed police with sophisticated artillery, teargas canisters, water canons and dogs descended on the students. Six students were arrested, including Mr.
Shaun Matsheza, ZINASU Vice President, and Mr. Caeser Sitiya, a member of the Student Representative Assembly, who were later released on bail on July 9, 2007, from Harare Central Police Station. Several students were seriously injured and received medical attention at Avenues Clinic. Mr. Jotham Shumba sustained a broken limb and Mr. Caeser Sitiya developed an infection on his leg after a dog bite.
Following these incidents, the University authorities, backed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) riot police section, forcefully evicted all students from the halls of residence after giving them one hour to vacate the halls.
The evictions occurred at a time when students where preparing for their end of semester examinations. Claiming damage to University property, the University was then closed henceforth12.
During the mission’s interview with the ZINASU members, this move to close the UZ campus was one widely viewed as one of the Government’s tactics to demobilize, intimidate and disorganize academic cycles of students and their leaders that are critical catalysts for social and political change in Zimbabwe, especially in the run up to the 2008 harmonised elections13. ZINASU is very active in advocating for free and fair elections and has been encouraging its members to participate in voter registration and contestation for youth parliamentary seats. This trend and harassment of student leaders is not unusual as ZINASU could recount a number of incidences where its members had been harassed, intimidated and even expelled from school as a result of their activism.
2. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR)