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Zimbabwe police charge top rights activist

Published on 08/03/2013

Zimbabwe police charged a top rights activist with a litany of offences Friday, her lawyer said, deepening an apparent government crackdown just days before Zimbabweans vote on a new constitution.

“Police have charged her for allegedly operating an unregistered organisation,” Jestina Mukoko’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, told AFP.

Other charges against Mukoko included the smuggling of radio sets and mobile phones and broadcasting without a licence, Nkomo added.

“They have released her into our custody and said they will call us when they are ready to go to court.”

The allegations come ahead of a March 16 referendum on a new constitution and crunch elections that will decide who will lead the country.

Mukoko handed herself over to police Friday morning accompanied by her lawyers and spent three hours with the authorities as the charges were read.

Nkomo described the meeting as “cordial”.

The charges against Mukoko come weeks after a raid at the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) where she is the director.

In 2008, Mukoko was seized from her home and detained at an undisclosed location before being taken to the notorious Chikurubi prison, a maximum-security centre outside Harare.

Her lawyers claimed state agents severely tortured her and forced her to confess to banditry and treason.

She was charged in 2009 with plotting to overthrow long-ruling President Robert Mugabe, but the charges were later dismissed.

The prosecution also accused her of recruiting people for terror training in neighbouring Botswana, a claim rejected by Botswana and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

State media on Friday quoted police commissioner general, Augustine Chihuri appealing to people knowing Mukoko’s whereabouts to report to any police station.

Amnesty International called state television’s broadcast, implying Mukoko was on the run, as “a new low in the recent crackdown on dissent.”

“This pattern of repressive behaviour by Zimbabwe’s security forces, and the use of underhand tactics to incriminate human rights defenders, must end,” said Amnesty’s Noel Kututwa.

Alleged government harassment has spiked ahead of this month’s referendum on the constitution and general elections later this year.

Police last month vowed to crack down on non-governmental organisations saying some pose a “serious security threat.”

In February, authorities raided the offices of ZPP, a human rights NGO, purportedly looking for “subversive materials and illegal immigrants”.

Detectives have forcibly entered the offices of local poll observer group the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and also confiscated documents.

In December they ransacked the offices of rights group Zimrights.

Meanwhile on Friday, Zimbabwe’s leader Mugabe visited South Africa for talks with ally President Jacob Zuma.

The 89-year-old Mugabe attended a meeting of former liberation and struggle movements hosted by Zuma in Pretoria.

Both Mugabe and Zuma refused to answer questions on the constitutional referendum, despite allegations of a mounting crackdown on civic and rights organisations.

South Africa has long played a pivotal role in Zimbabwe, but has resisted pressure to publicly condemn rights abuses in the neighbouring country.

“We share the same values, we went through the same route,” Zuma said after the meeting, flanked by Mugabe.

“We believe that our positions as former liberation movements need to be consolidated.”