Civil Society Calls For End To Arrests, Abductions

CIVIL society yesterday demanded that President Robert Mugabe and guarantors of the global political agreement (GPA) –– Sadc and the African Union (AU) –– ensure the immediate cessation of a new wave of arrests, abductions and assaults on citizens and political activists.

In a joint letter to Sadc chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe and AU head Jakaya Kikwete, 46 civic organisations said the crackdown by state security organs was a mockery of the GPA signed by Mugabe and leaders of the two MDC formations –– Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

Motlanthe and Kikwete are the presidents of South Africa and Tanzania.

The letter was prompted by Wednesday’s alleged pre-dawn abduction of the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Jestina Mukoko, by suspected state security agents at her home in Norton.

The same day scores of civil society activists were arrested across the country for participating in a demonstration called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) against cash withdrawal limits.

Yesterday, members of the National Constitutional Assembly staged a peaceful demonstration in central Harare pressing for the establishment of a transitional authority to deal with the country’s 10-year-old crisis.

ZPP is a human rights abuse monitoring organisation and played a leading role in documenting election-related violence, which claimed the lives of more than 100 people, most of them opposition supporters during the countdown to the June 27 presidential poll.

In their letter to Motlanthe and Kikwete, the civic groups said the two leaders should ensure the immediate release of Mukoko and other “human rights defenders” who were in police custody.

The groups said they wanted an “immediate cessation of systematic purges and human rights violations by the current establishment and its security agents on human rights defenders”.

The civil organisation asked government to observe its duty to respect and protect internationally guaranteed human rights and to ensure that no human rights abuses committed by state authorities and party militias receive any pardons in the future as the trends of violence seems to be escalating.

The civic groups said the abduction of Mukoko, a former television presenter, undermined the interparty agreement which was signed by Zanu PF and the two MDC formations.

“This kidnapping is a blunt mockery of the global political agreement signed by Zimbabwean political parties on September 15 and shows the extent of the breakdown of the rule of law and insincerity of state authorities in Zimbabwe,” read the letter.

“This confirms the concern civil society in Zimbabwe has about the ability of the security services to act in the public interest and in an impartial manner.”

Mukoko was scheduled to be the master of ceremonies at the annual United States-sponsored Auxillia Chimusoro HIV and Aids Awards that were held on Wednesday.

The American Ambassador James McGee on Wednesday informed guests that efforts to find out the whereabouts of Mukoko before the ceremony were in vain.

“We have been seeking frantically for Jestina and could not find her. What I want to say to anyone who abducted her, whether it is the army or police, release Jestina now. We need her to be released,” McGee said.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights yesterday filed an urgent High Court application seeking the immediate release of Mukoko.

Last week the ZCTU called for peaceful protests against the Reserve Bank’s cash withdrawal limits, and called on the public to march to their banks on Wednesday this week to demand their money.

However, the police broke up the march in Harare by the national trade union movement and arrested more than 70 people including ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibebe, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe and South African Broadcasting Corporation correspondent John Nyashanu.

The arrests came barely 24 hours after Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi appeared on television warning the ZCTU not to proceed with the demonstration.

Health workers, including doctors and nurses who downed their tools two months ago in protest at poor salaries and working conditions, also joined the march and were arrested after they tried to protest against the government’s failure to deal with the cholera  outbreak, which has killed close to 600 people in the past four weeks.

The attacks on dissent come over a month after suspected government agents seized 15 MDC activists in Banket, Mashonaland West.

The government initially claimed the activists were involved in training “insurgents” against the government, but now denies they are in official custody.

The 15 have not been seen since they were abducted, 36 days ago, and police have ignored court orders for them to be produced in court.

The umbrella body of the civil society, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) yesterday issued a statement in which it condemned the arrests of the civil society activists.

In the statement it said: “Nango expresses its deep concern about this new wave of arrests of civil society activists. These arrests of peaceful activists are especially alarming in a period in which the vast majority of Zimbabweans are struggling to survive every day facing serious difficulties acquiring food and essential medical services.

“Civil society activists have the right to speak out peacefully for their constituency. Their arrests prevent them from voicing the concerns of the people of Zimbabwe.”

In the same statement, Nango claimed that around 30 activists were arrested in Gweru by police while peacefully attending a ZCTU protest against cash withdrawal limits and the increasing dollarisation of the economy, which is affecting the majority of Zimbabweans.

The Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC on Wednesday condemned the attacks on civic activists saying the GPA guarantees the basic freedoms and rights of people to express themselves.

 “The latest acts of thuggery are a clear indication that there is no paradigm shift on the part of Zanu PF to act in accordance with the GPA,” the MDC-T said.

By Lucia Makamure

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