Zimbabwe steps up purge on civil society groups

Wednesday February 13 2013

By KITSEPILE NYATHI, NATION CORRESPONDENT, HARARE

Zimbabwe police on Tuesday raided the offices of a Harare based non governmental organisation heightening fears of a wider crackdown against civil society groups ahead of this year’s elections.

The heavily armed police offices seized cell phones, business cards and other electronic data gadgets from the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) but no arrests were made.

ZPP is led by a former journalist at the country’s only state broadcaster who was abducted by state security agents in 2008 who severely tortured her while in custody.

The NGO, which monitors political violence and is involved in voter education, became the fourth such group to be raided by police in the last three weeks.

Ms Beatrice Mtetwa, the ZPP lawyer said police produced a search warrant that authorised them to seize “any subversive material, documents, gadgets and recordings.”

There were also allegations that the organisation had people who had no proper travel documents at its offices and smuggled material.

“They did not tell us what was smuggled and who is here without proper immigration documents,” Ms Mtetwa said.

In other raids of NGOs, police said they were searching for “subversive material” that could be prejudicial to the state, which was related to voter education.

President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF accuses civil society groups of campaigning for his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

“At least seven police officers in civilian clothes raided the offices of Zimbabwe Peace Project and took some documents including reports and CDs,” said Mr Kumbirai Mafunda, the spokesman for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

“This is purely harassment and another crackdown on human rights defenders,” he told AFP, speaking on behalf of the Zimbabwe Peace Project.

Mr Mafunda said the officers had a warrant to search for “articles (intended) for criminal use”.

The document did not state the nature of the articles. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project records cases of human rights violations, notably during the run-up to the bloody 2008 vote.

The raid came after police last month arrested Mr Okay Machisa, a leading activist and director of the human rights group Zimrights, for “scanning voter registration certificates with false names and misrepresenting that these people had been registered as voters”.

He has since been freed on bail.

In December, police raided the Zimrights offices in central Harare, detaining another official.

Zimbabwe police have led a growing crackdown on non-governmental organisations seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe.

With the southern African country readying for elections later this year, political tensions are running high and activists increasingly targeted.

Authorities have in the past threatened to revoke registration for groups deemed to be opposed to Mugabe’s policies.

Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party has urged the police to stop harassing rights activists and party supporters.

This year’s election is set to end the coalition government led by Mr Tsvangirai and President Mugabe.

Zimbabwe is expected to hold a referendum next month and General Election by June.