Rights groups fear Zimbabwe pre-election crackdown
Rights groups voiced fears Monday that the Zimbabwean authorities would launch a crackdown on rights activists ahead of a referendum and elections scheduled early next year.
The “situation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe remains grim as their operating space can be further shrunk” in the run-up to polls, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said.
Zimbabwe is due to approve a new constitution next year, and vote in polls to end a power-sharing deal that turned sour between President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, and his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Rights activists still face intimidation, harassment and torture in the troubled nation, the Observatory said in Johannesburg, launching a report after a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe.
A recent police raid at a counselling centre for victims of violence shows activists are in for a rough time, said Arnold Tsunga, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), one of the partners in the NGO coalition.
Three officials of the Zimbabwean Counselling Services Unit, which offers medical and psychological assistance to victims of organised violence, were arrested last month and their office equipment and records seized.
“If you attack the prime human rights defender with impunity in such a brazen way, it shows that potential for human rights defenders to really be squeezed ahead of the election,” Tsunga told AFP.
Lobbyists cannot watch the crucial vote as closely with continued targeting, warned Tsunga.
Lawyers for Human Rights, another partner organisation that produced the report, handle around 1,500 cases of abused rights activists in Zimbabwe each year, said Tsunga.