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Police Intensify NGO Raids

POLICE this week intensified their crackdown on civil society by arresting employees of a humanitarian organisation, Action Aid.

The non-governmental organisation’s acting director Anne Chipembere, senior programmes officer Precious Shumba and three other employees were arrested in Mayo, Manicaland, by police officers from the Law and Order department.

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the arrests, but said the five Action Aid employees had since been released.

“Investigations are still underway,” said Bvudzijena. “We came across these guys in Mayo and we are interested in finding out the nature of their business.”

Earlier this week the police asked to see Zimbabwe Election Support Network director (Zesn) Rindai Chipfunde-Vava following last week’s raid on the organisation’s Harare offices.

The police seized election-related material from the offices.

Noel Kutukwa, the chairperson of Zesn, on Monday handed himself over to the police and has since been requested to submit the organisation’s financial and banking accounts and a written description of the network’s operations.

He was also asked to give an explanation on the role of Zesn in the March 29 elections.

The National Association for Non-Governmental Organisations yesterday said in the last two weeks similar raids were carried out at Crisis Coalition, Centre for Research and Development, and Plan International offices in Mutoko.

More than 200 MDC activists were last Friday rounded up by armed riot police at the party’s Harvest House headquarters in central Harare.

However, High Court Judge Anne-Mary Gowora on Monday ordered their release after MDC lawyers successfully argued that the search warrant which was used to carry out the raid was vague.

Jeremiah Bamu, who represented the MDC members, provided the Zimbabwe Independent with a copy of the search warrant which says the police raided the MDC offices in order to search for articles called “suspicious people”.

“It refers to such suspicious people as articles in the possession of or under the control of the MDC or any unlawful occupiers in Harvest House which are concerned or believed to be used in the commission or suspected commission of an offence or contravening Section 36 of the Criminal law,” Bamu said in his founding affidavit.

“It is inhuman and degrading to refer to any person as an article. It is denigrating and demeaning to the human status and must be frowned upon and condemned in the strongest censure possible. All human beings are born equal in dignity and status .It is therefore quite offending to the virtue of humanity to refer to any human as an object or article.”

Bamu added: “The phrase ‘suspicious’ is too broad and vague for comfort. There is no criteria set to identify what constitutes suspicious. It is not clear in whose eyes the suspiciousness or otherwise of the people is to be measured. As a result, anyone can be indsciminately rounded up depending on the caprious whims of whoever deems that person to be suspicious for that moment.”

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch this week accused Zimbabwe’s army of working with ruling party militants to unleash “terror and violence” against dissent.

This comes amid claims by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC that at least 20 of its supporters have been killed since the March 29 elections in politically motivated violence.

In a statement, the New York-based group joined other international rights watchdogs and the MDC in linking violence since a disputed presidential vote to the security forces and “war veterans”.

The war veterans are loyal to President Robert Mugabe and have roots in the nation’s Independence struggle.

“Mugabe’s regime has countered that the opposition groups are responsible for the violence,” the statement read. “Authorities have even arrested scores of people, including women and their nursing babies, who the opposition says had taken shelter from violence in the countryside at its headquarters in Harare.”

The High Court on Monday ordered everyone arrested at its headquarters last week to be freed.

“The army and its allies — ‘war veterans’ and supporters of the ruling party Zanu PF — are intensifying their brutal grip on wide swathes of rural Zimbabwe to ensure that a possible second round of presidential elections goes their way,” Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

Neither the army chief nor a government spokesman could be reached for immediate comment.

By Lucia Makamure

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