Latest Update: 31 December 2013
The overall human rights situation in Zimbabwe from October to December has remained stable. Incidents of post-election violence and intimidation have subsided. We continue to monitor closely the harassment and arbitrary arrests of civil society organisations (CSOs), human rights defenders and opposition political activists.
Since the 31 July elections, the government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has made little progress in improving the human rights environment and reforming repressive legislation and media freedoms. We continue to urge the GoZ to fulfil its international legal obligations and commitments towards human rights. During this period, the EU and Amnesty International have renewed calls for the GoZ to abolish the death penalty and to sign the UN Convention on Torture.
We continue to be concerned at the lack of funding of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC). The ZHRC is still without a permanent chairperson. As reported in the last update, ZHRC Deputy Chairperson, Ellen Sithole, is temporarily in charge. The ZHRC has recently been given approval by the Ministry of Finance to recruit a secretariat, but it is not yet operational.
The Zimbabwean media environment is still dominated by state-owned outlets and space for independent media remains severely limited. In October, Deputy Information Minister Supa Mandiwanzira warned that media houses continuing to criticize President Mugabe and the ruling party, ZANU-PF, would “soon be out of business”. Rhetoric against pirate radio stations has continued. During this period new media outlets were granted licences, but this has not resulted in greater media diversity.
In October, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe called for applications for 25 commercial radio station licenses. However, the GoZ has not yet called for applications for community radio licences, and these remain illegal. On 11 December, the Harare Jesuit community launched a community radio station, Radio Chiedza. The launch of the Catholic radio initiative brings the number of “pirate” community radio initiatives which are waiting to be licensed to 14.
At the beginning of December, a new newspaper was launched, the Zimbabwe Mail. It becomes the second daily paper to be launched this year after Alpha Media Holdings launched its Bulawayo-based regional daily, the Southern Eye. However, it is reported that Transport Minister Obert Mpofu is the owner of the newspaper, adding to the number of state-aligned newspapers.
On 29 November, several members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were beaten in Bulawayo as they peacefully protested under their new ‘right to petition’ in the constitution. Separately, on 2 December, several hundred WOZA members began two separate peaceful protests petitioning as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
On 10 December, the British Embassy in Harare, along with human rights activists, celebrated UN International Human Rights Day. Activists marched through the streets of Harare to commemorate the day. The march was co-organised by CSOs and the ZHRC, and called upon the government to respect and protect human rights.
At the ZANUPF 14th annual conference in December, Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo threatened to clamp down and ban emerging religious groups and sects deemed to be promoting Satanism and homosexuality. He said all churches should be registered and monitored by government to avoid religious fundamentalism.
In November, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) accepted the petition filed on behalf of WOZA, seeking to protect the right to engage in peaceful demonstrations. This marks the first time that Africa’s leading human rights body will hear a case that directly addresses the right to peaceful protest. This is an important development at the ACHPR, which represents a positive step towards strengthening democracy in Zimbabwe and the region.
We have previously reported on the court case of Beatrice Mtetwa, who had been arrested and charged with allegedly obstructing the course of justice. On 26 November, she was acquitted, after the judge ruled there was no evidence against her. She had originally been charged with obstructing justice. Also within the same week, Abel Chikomo, the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was acquitted on 22 November. He had originally been charged with allegedly running an illegal organisation in Zimbabwe.
On 11 December, Anti-Corruption Commission official Emmanuel Chimwanda, who was charged with criminal abuse of office and contravening the Official Secrets Act, was acquitted. The court dismissed the charges as trivial. The magistrate added that the case had been handled in an unprocedural manner.
On 7 November, MDC-T (the main Zimbabwean opposition party) election agent Morgan Komichi was found guilty of electoral fraud charges. The Electoral Commission had originally accused him of tampering with ballot papers that he said were retrieved from a dustbin located at the Special Vote Command Centre. Mr Komichi had denied the charges against him. He was given a 10month suspended sentence and 350 hours of community service. A High Court Judge last week accepted he had grounds for appeal against the verdict, and suspended his sentence pending that appeal. He is now free and expects the appeal to be heard in March 2014.
We previously reported that 21 of the 29 Glenview activists were acquitted on 19 September, after the court ruled that none of the evidence provided by the state implicated them on the murder charge. Those who have been acquitted have since indicated their intention to sue for damages. On 26 November, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu indefinitely postponed the case, in which a total of seven MDC-T activists still remain charged for the murder of a policeman in Glen View in 2011. Rebecca Mafukeni, one of the activists, died in August while still detained. Three of the seven activists will remain detained for an indefinite amount of time after their trial was deferred.
With regard to pre-2008 violence, on 27 November, the Supreme Court of Appeal in South Africa upheld a landmark legal order, compelling the prosecuting authorities in that country to investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated in Zimbabwe. The Court said that the authorities had a duty to probe allegations of torture as required by the Rome Statute, to which South Africa is a signatory. Described as a “landmark decision for local and international justice,” the ruling made clear that the perpetrators of the crimes in Zimbabwe can be held accountable in South Africa regardless of where the offending acts took place. The case was led by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) and was based on a dossier detailing a politically motivated attack on MDC-T members in Zimbabwe in 2007. This sends a clear message that those who violate the law will be held accountable and will help to tackle the culture of impunity in Zimbabwe, but it is not yet clear what action the South African government will take.
On 10 December, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights demanded an independent investigation into the deaths of over 100 people in the country’s prisons since the beginning of the year. They have called on government to urgently address the issue of disease outbreaks and food shortages in prisons. Zimbabwe Prison Services deputy commissioner Aggrey Machingauta told Parliament that prisoners were surviving on one meal a day due to funding constraints.
Update: 30 September 2013
Despite ongoing concerns, the overall human rights situation in Zimbabwe from July to September remained stable, with no significant spikes in violence, intimidation or arrests. On 31 July Zimbabwe held elections, which could have been a potential trigger for violence and for the human rights situation to deteriorate. The elections were peaceful and calm, although the conduct of the elections was seriously flawed, with clear evidence of voting irregularities, raising serious doubts about their credibility.
We continue to be concerned at incidents of harassment against Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), human rights defenders, and opposition political activists. While levels of violence have been low during this period, intimidation and the threat of violence has been widespread during the election period. CSOs and human rights defenders, which were targeted by the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and state security forces pre-election, continue to be fearful of retribution and a clamp down on democratic space.
In early July, the British Embassy in Harare received reports that Gift Chimanikire, an MDC-T (the main Zimbabwean opposition party) minister in the previous government, and MDC-T supporters in his community, were attacked by a group of ZANU-PF youths for door-to-door election campaigning. In a separate incident, MDC-T Assembly candidate Costa Machingauta also came under an attack by assailants allegedly from ZANU-PF whilst driving in Harare. Arnold Tsunga, the newly elected MDC-T MP for Dangamvura-Chikanga, plus 49 other MDC-T supporters were arrested on 19 July, after conducting a door-to-door campaign on the eve of the elections. The trial commenced on 3 September and is ongoing.
Post-election, MDC-T supporters and activists have also reported incidents of intimidation and harassment. Local CSOs have received over a dozen reports of politically motivated cases of harassment and intimidation (e.g. threat of violence, death and abduction) and displacement. Most recently, there have been reports of farm evictions and taking of land from MDC-T supporters. This includes the recent attack on Mashonaland East Province official Silent Dube, who was abducted from his farm, and reports that about 13 families accused of supporting MDC-T were evicted from a farm owned by ZANU-PF minister Nicolas Goche in Shamva. Members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested twice (19 and 20 September) for peaceful demonstrations to mark International Peace Day. The Zimbabwe Republic Police broke up a peace march organised by WOZA and MDC-T youth, with four WOZA members arrested and one beaten up by police.
Repressive legislation and limited media freedoms continue to affect all Zimbabweans. We are disappointed that key legislative reforms, designed to ensure an independent media and impartial security services, were not completed ahead of the elections as required by the Global Political Agreement. As a result, the Zimbabwean media is still dominated by state-owned outlets and space for independent media remains severely limited. However, during the election period Zimbabwe’s first independent TV channel was launched, 1st TV, which provided a platform to disseminate non-partisan information.
On 10 September, President Mugabe announced his new Cabinet. The UK will continue to monitor the human rights situation and how the democratic space in Zimbabwe develops under the new government. We will continue to call regularly, both bilaterally and in partnership with other EU Member States, for an end to all human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. We hope the new government will restore internationally accepted human rights standards.
The Human Rights Commission Chair, Jacob Mudenda, has been appointed as Speaker of Parliament. The Deputy Chairperson, Ellen Sithole, will take over the Commission until a replacement is in place. Recently, the Commission has been looking into reports on internally displaced people after the elections, many of whom are MDC-T supporters receiving retribution from ZANU-PF supporters.
There are several ongoing court cases, which we have previously reported on. The Glenview 29 court case remains ongoing: 29 MDC-T activists were charged with murdering a police officer, Inspector Petros Mutedza in Glenview two years ago. Their lawyers argue that the state had failed to prove its case against them, and hence the case should be dismissed. One of the accused, Rebecca Mafukeni, died in custody in August whilst awaiting the High Court Judge’s decision. On 19 September, 21 of the activists were acquitted with all charges against them dropped. The court ruled that none of the evidence the state provided implicated them on the murder charge. The judge ruled the remaining seven still had a case to answer. They remain in remand prison and their case will be heard at a later date. The trial of human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, resumed on 2 September. Mtetwa, who was arrested on 17 March, is charged with allegedly obstructing the course of justice.
The trial of the Executive Directorof the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Abel Chikomo, for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation commences on 16 September, in yet another case of harassment of civic organisations and human rights defenders. The charge, which he denies, came after the Forum, a non-governmental umbrella organisation, conducted a survey on transitional justice. These charges were brought against him in February 2011. Over the past two years Chikomo has been interrogated and asked to report to the police station on several occasions.
In addition, MDC-T election agent Morgan Komichi, was arrested on 28 July, and remains in custody. Komichi is facing electoral fraud charges, after the Electoral Commission accused him of tampering with ballot papers that he says were retrieved from a dustbin located at the Special Vote Command Centre. He denies the charges. The trial is ongoing.
Update: 30 June 2013
The human rights situation in Zimbabwe has continued to remain unstable over the last three months. Incidents against Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Human Rights defenders, the media and political parties have all continued at a consistent rate. Overall numbers of incidents in 2013 are no higher than in 2012, although there has been a steady monthly increase this year. The situation may worsen as elections approach.
CSOs continue to be targeted and harassed in connection with elections related activities. On 11 April, three members from the National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) in Bulawayo were arrested over a voter mobilisation exercise. They were released the same day without charge. On 13 May the Director of the Election Resource Centre (ERC) was arrested during a raid on the offices, six days after the ERC released a critical report on the government voter registration process. The charges against him are related to illegal voter registration. On 28 May, Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) officials were summoned by police in Hwangwe Province to answer charges of conducting illegal voter education. Posters and flyers were later confiscated at the ZESN offices by police. On 4 June, three officials from the Mutare Office of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) were detained by police in connection with human rights activities. The offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) were forcefully entered by unknown assailants on 6 June. Five assailants were subsequently arrested by police. We believe there are further incidences we are not aware of.
Media practitioners and journalists continue to be harassed through attacks from senior politicians, unlawful arrests and threats of closure. In May, the Editor and Chief Reporter of The Independent newspaper, Dumisani Muleya and Owen Gagare, were arrested and charged for allegedly publishing falsehoods, in a story claiming the MDC was in negotiations with military and police service chiefs aimed at preventing political instability. An award winning playwright in Zimbabwe is seeking legal intervention after his play, whose central theme is peace, was banned last year. He has begun a legal process to appeal the censorship measure.
Incidents of politically motivated violence against the MDC-T have been regularly reported. In April, the MDC-T Youth Leader, Solomon Madzore, was arrested for allegedly defaming President Mugabe at a rally in Guruve. He was subsequently released after 14 days in detention. On 28 May, three MDC-T officials, who had been organising their party primary elections the previous weekend, were attacked at their homes in Harare South and severely assaulted by ZANU PF supporters. The case was reported at Waterfalls Police Station but the perpetrators were not arrested.
In our last quarterly report, we reported on the arrest of Beatrice Mtetwa. Ms Mtetwa appeared in court on 8 June where she appealed for her case to be heard by a different magistrate. This appeal was granted and her trial is still ongoing in the courts.
The ongoing trial of 29 MDC-T Youth activists accused of murdering a police officer in Glen View on 29 May 2011 resumed at the High Court on 13 June. The five activists, who are still in custody, have made an application for discharge of the state case. The Judge has currently reserved ruling on the application.
On 7 June two convicted armed robbers, Wilson Mavhuto and Charles Rusiko, were sentenced to death. There has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Zimbabwe since 2005, but a new executioner was recruited at the end of 2012.
We have previously reported on the arrest in March of Emmanuel Chimwanda, commissioner of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC). Mr Chimwanda faces charges of impersonation, illegal possession of articles for criminal use and breaching the Official Secrets Act. Mr Chimwanda has since been remanded on bail and barred from ZACC offices until the ongoing investigation is resolved.
In April, the Anglicans in Manicaland regained their properties including the Cathedral and held a cleansing service to re-occupy it. The service was very well-attended with the Archbishop of Zambia presiding and Bishops from across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa participating. The British Ambassador in Harare also attended the service. This seems to be the final part of the return of property from rogue ZANU PF ex-Bishops Kunonga and Jakazi following the two Supreme Court judgements.
On 13 June, President Mugabe announced that elections would take place on 31 July. This followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court that the elections should take place by the end of July. However, at a Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the government of Zimbabwe was asked to postpone the elections so that crucial reforms could be implemented. We expect harassment of CSOs, Human Rights Defenders, the media and political parties to continue and possibly increase in the lead up to these elections. For example, in May, the Bulawayo Governor, Cain Mathema, threatened to shut down all NGOs operating in Province.
Update: 31 March 2013
The human rights situation was unstable in the first quarter of 2013. As elections get closer, we are concerned that the environment is deteriorating. There has been an increase in incidents of politically motivated violence and harassment against NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), including raids on CSO offices and arrests of human rights defenders, and in violations of the right to freedom of expression and assembly and to access to information. The key to free and fair elections lies in the implementation of the reforms set out in the Global Political Agreement and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) roadmap.
The constitutional referendum was held successfully on 16 March. It was widely reported as well-managed and peaceful by the SADC observers and CSOs. The successful completion of the constitution-making process represents an important achievement for political cooperation between the parties to Zimbabwe’s inclusive government. The new draft constitution has been gazetted and will be debated in parliament on 7 May.
We reported in December 2012 that Professor Reg Austin resigned as the Human Rights Commission Chair, citing lack of funding and progress. Professor Austin was replaced by Jacob Mudenda in February. This has not been well received by human rights groups as Mudenda is a former ZANU PF governor for Matabeleland North and served in that capacity during the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s, when over 20,000 people were killed. Also in February, Supreme Court Judge Rita Makarau was appointed as the chair of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. This has been welcomed by reformists who describe her as a principled judge who will provide strong leadership during the critical election period.
In the last quarter of 2012 we reported the on long running legal battle with excommunicated former bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Anglican Church in Harare. On 27 February the Supreme Court made another judgement in favour of the Anglican Church in Manicaland in a legal case involving the Province and breakaway former bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Manicaland Elson Jakazi. This has now resulted in the return of church properties.
We were appalled by the death of 12 year old Christpowers Maisiri when the house of his father, a local MDC-T party official, was set on fire on 23 February. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) investigation concluded that the fire that claimed his life was a result of the explosion of tobacco chemicals and ammonium nitrate fertiliser in the thatched hut the boy was sleeping in. However, concerns have been raised by MDC-T Ministers that this was a politically motivated arson attack.
On 14 January the ZRP arrested and charged Okay Machisa, the Director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), for conducting illegal voter registration. Machisa was granted bail on 29 January. His arrest followed that of Leo Chamwahwinya, the ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, on 13 December 2012; Chamahwinya was released on bail on 18 February.
On 18 January the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the crackdown on NGOs and others who are seen as critical of the President. On the same day, CSOs issued a joint statement condemning the “unashamed intimidatory and repressive tactics” used by the Zimbabwean government against CSOs and their leaders.
On 5 February in Lupane, Matabeleland North Province, police arrested two National Youth Development Trust members and charged them with contravening the Criminal Law Act for allegedly possessing voter registration receipts.
On 11 February the ZRP raided National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) offices in Masvingo where another youth organisation, Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD), is housed. Police demanded registration papers from COTRAD and force marched two employees, Benias Tirivavi and Zivanai Muzorodzi, to Masvingo police station, where they were further interrogated and detained for more than two hours.
Also on 11 February, the offices of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) were raided by the ZRP. No arrests were made, but the police confiscated up to 60 mobile phones and 60 wind-up radios. The mobile phones were confiscated as “smuggled goods”. But since they are of a common and inexpensive brand purchased locally in Zimbabwe their seizure raises the concern that they may have been confiscated because of fears they would be used for election observation. The police also confiscated reports detailing incidents of intimidation and violence that had been received from around the country and not yet loaded onto ZPP’s database for monitoring human rights abuses.
The ZRP also raided the offices of Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) on 19 February, stating that they were looking for subversive materials, gadgets and illegal immigrants and the offices of Radio Dialogue on 1 March, when they seized 180 solar and kinetic energy propelled radios.
The ZRP issued a warning on 20 February calling on NGOs not to distribute “communication gadgets” to rural areas. Many Zimbabweans, especially in the rural areas, rely on shortwave radio as a key source of information on current issues. They also use them to pick up independent and international stations in preference to the state-run stations, which transmit pro ZANU-PF messages. There appears to be no legal basis for the seizures as Section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act does not prohibit the possession of shortwave radios. We have called on the Government of Zimbabwe to clarify the legal basis for the warning.
On 14 February approximately 30 members of the group Woman of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were beaten by ZRP officers while taking part in a peaceful demonstration. Five members were detained at Bulawayo Central Police Station and 13 members required medical treatment.
On 8 March, Jestina Mukoko, ZPP national director, was charged with contravening the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Customs and Excise Act, contravening the Broadcasting Services Act Section 38E (1) (a) for allegedly refusing or failing to register as a dealer and Section 182 of the Customs and Excise Act Chapter 23:03 for allegedly smuggling radios and cell phones. This was another example during the first quarter of the state targeting CSOs in order to control the information environment and limit access to information.
On 17 March Beatrice Mtetwa, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer, was arrested, along with four senior MDC-T officials from the Prime Minister’s Office. Thabani Mpofu, the Principal Director for Research and Development, Felix Matsinde. Mehluli Tshuma and Warship Dumba were charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, impersonating the police and illegal possession of documents for criminal use. Our Ambassador in Harare expressed HMG’s strong concern and Embassy staff attended the court hearings. After eight days on remand, Mtetwa was granted bail on 25 March. The four officials from the Prime Minister’s office were granted bail on 27 March.
Following the release of Beatrice Mtetwa, the High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, who presided over the case, was professionally and personally attacked by state media for his judgement and handling of the case. This could have implications for other judges presiding over politically-sensitive cases and is indicative of the problems in the justice system in Zimbabwe.
Emmanuel Chimwanda, commissioner and financial committee chairman of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), was arrested on 26 March and remanded on bail until 22 April. He faces charges of impersonation, illegal possession of articles for criminal use and breaching the Official Secrets Act. The incident took place a week after ZACC CEO Ngonidzashe Gumbo was arrested over allegations of embezzlement of commission funds. He is still in detention.
On 25 March the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) ruled that Zimbabwe must compensate Gabriel Shumba, a human rights lawyer, for the torture and trauma they inflicted on him in 2003.
The ongoing trial of 29 MDC-T Youth activists accused of murdering a police officer in Glen View on 29 May 2011 was further delayed (their lawyer is Beatrice Mtetwa). Their case is scheduled to be heard at the High Court on 23 April.