NOW that the electoral season is in full gear, Zimbabwean security forces are at it again spearheading renewed repression and terror.
Human rights activists are coming under growing pressure as police dramatically escalate a crackdown on dissent casting doubt on the country’s readiness to hold a credible constitutional referendum and general elections this year.
The wave of arbitrary arrests of civil society activists on all sort of charges, that do not constitute crimes in civilised and democratic societies, seem to signal the resurgence of political repression last seen in the run-up to the bloody June 2008 presidential election run-off.
In Zimbabwe today you put yourself at risk if you do anything that might fall outside the increasingly narrow confines of the police state and what authorities deem acceptable.
Anything from setting up a pressure group, joining a non-governmental organisation (NGO), expressing dissent or even joking about President Robert Mugabe can land you in prison. In the ongoing crackdown, the Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Election Support Network offices were raided by police on accusations of subversion and possessing unauthorised recording equipment and voter education display materials as well as conducting illegal voter registration.
Anti-riot police also tear-gased, beat up and arrested Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) marchers during a Valentine’s Day march for peace and tolerance. A pastor and community campaigners were arrested after a meeting in Chegutu for encouraging unregistered adults to register as voters.
These events appear to be a calculated state-sponsored terror campaign to instill fear in NGOs doing election-related work as polling approach. Besides, the timing of these arrests shows conditions are not yet conducive for free, fair and credible elections.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba acknowledged what we have always been saying that the force is highly partisan when she revealed they would arrest and detain NGO activists that disseminate “false” information which discredits Zanu PF ahead of elections.
Charamba denied the arbitrary arrests and detentions were an onslaught on civil society, claiming they were lawful searches that had “unearthed criminal activities”.
“Certain NGOs are engaging in political processes to the detriment of state security and the stability of this country,” charged Charamba.
At least we now know from Charamba’s comments that discrediting Zanu PF is a crime, but what about her threadbare claims that NGOs are deploying monitors to gather information at Zanu PF rallies?
What useful information from a Zanu PF rally and how can attending these soporific gatherings be detrimental to state security and stability of the country?
If anything, it is when security forces curtail people’s constitutionally entrenched civil and political liberties that they themselves actually become a threat to national peace and stability.
The break up and prevention of public gatherings and arrests of Zanu PF political opponents is actually detrimental to the stability of the nation.