There is growing concern over the recent crackdown on Civil Society Organizations leaders who continue to suffer in the hands of the Emmerson Mnangagwa led government.Rights organizations are citing the recent arrest of activists on allegations that they were plotting to overthrow the constitutionally elected government.
Speaking at a press conference in Harare last week,Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum issued a statement on how they had noted with great regret the state’s coordinated and systematic attack on civil society organisations in Zimbabwe through falsehoods in the media, arbitrary arrests, detention and malicious prosecutions of civil society leaders and staff members.
“These malicious moves are not only shameful but in violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms which the Zimbabwean government has voluntarily undertaken to respect and protect.” said the Forum.
The state media and others aligned to the government were singled out as major participants in the said crackdown through publishing falsehoods.
“In the past few weeks, the state, through the Herald, the Chronicle and its surrogate tabloid the Patriot and online publication the Harare Post, has consistently published falsehoods against civil society organisations in a deliberate effort to criminalize the work of civil society, fuel hate and undermine the integrity of the persons who work with and in civil society.” read the statement
The Forum went on to give detailed accounts of how the media was being used to fuel the crackdown and criminalize the work of civil society.
“The Forum notes that this work of fiction is not without consequence. The state has in the past used the same media outlets to criminalize civil society actors that are known to be critical of its human rights record as a way preparing for an onslaught on such actors and discouraging them from doing their work. The timing of the malicious articles, together with arrest of seven human rights defenders on trumped charges is very telling. This is the time when the economy is on a free fall with untold suffering gripping the masses, a development that is causing anxiety and fears of unrest on the nation.” added the Forum.
When the second republic was birthed there was an atmosphere of confidence with regards to improved relations between the government and the civil society.Some 19 months down the line there has been no improvement as they continue to be seen as enemies rather than vital partners in nation building and economic revival efforts.
“Civil society leaders across the country have reported an increase in surveillance, office visits and interruption of their meetings by the state. Civil society organisations are simply people organizing themselves to find solutions to problems affecting their communities. They are not enemies, but partners for development. Their work is legitimate and must not be criminalized. They provide the necessary checks on public leadership and their work must be embraced as a positive contribution to transparency and accountability. In times of natural disasters, they do more than the state in assisting the vulnerable. In times of state brutality, they offer protection to vulnerable citizens.”
On Monday unidentified men perceived to be state agents besieged the home of Heal Zimbabwe Trust Director Rashid Mahiya surrounded it for about an hour and continuously knocked on the doors to be allowed entry. The men refused to identify themselves and were driving two unmarked Nissan vehicles.
Heal Zimbabwe then issued a statement condemning the act as it violates Mahiya’s fundamental rights.
“Heal Zimbabwe notes that this continued trailing and harassment of Mahiya does not only compromise his security and that of his young family, but also violates his fundamental human rights and freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution such as the right to personal security. This latest threat on the life of Mahiya, come at a time when seven Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are languishing in prison facing a litany of charges that include effecting regime change.”
“In light of this, Heal Zimbabwe implores government to create a conducive environment for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms that are exclusively provided for in the Bill of Rights (Chapter 4 of the constitution). Added to this, the government must also stop criminalizing the work of CSOs as their contribution to the attainment of democracy in any given society is key.”
The civil society has over the years continuously called on the Government not only to open up civic space, allow civil society and human defenders to carry out their work but also to take the necessary steps to alleviate the suffering of citizens in the face of harsh economic conditions.