By Violet Gonda
21 February 2013
Armed men and women reportedly broke into the Masvingo offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network early Thursday morning and stole equipment, including a computer, two top drawers from the group’s field officer’s desk with all the contents, plus 800 T-shirts. ZESN said this is the second time this week the Masvingo office has been targeted by unidentified assailants.
Several civil society organizations have come under fire in recent weeks, with the election monitoring group being the latest target.
Earlier this week, police raided ZESN’s head office in Harare saying they were looking for subversive material, gadgets or recordings and illegal immigrants, on the same day the Masvingo office had been broken into for the first time.
But attacks on civil society reached new heights when police said that communications gadget, allegedly confiscated from the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) (including Eton Microlink radios) were being used for espionage.
The radios named by the police are convenient, inexpensive, solar powered radios often favoured by campers in North America and by some people in Zimbabwe’s rural areas where electricity is in short supply. These cheap radios are mainly used to listen to external radio stations, offering alternative views, via medium wave and shortwave.
These Eton Microlink radios are among the ‘specially designed radios’ that were banned by the police on Tuesday, who claimed they will be used to communicate hate speech ahead of polls scheduled for this year.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Huawei Ascend Y100 cellphones fitted with Geographical Positioning System (GPS) and other ‘subversive material and documents’ were also confiscated during a raid of the ZPP offices last week, and accused the organization of distributing some of these gadgets in rural areas.
The spokesman is quoted in the state controlled Herald newspaper saying that ZPP is an unregistered organization whose activities were a threat to national security.
The NGO is run by Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted in December 2008, tortured and spent four months in police custody after she was accused of recruiting people for military training to try to overthrow the government. The case was later thrown out by the Supreme Court.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said there is a sustained and escalating assault on NGO’s involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision – all of which are lawful activities. They said the methods of attack include character assassination through the partisan and state-controlled media and the disruption of these lawful activities.
In a statement issued Thursday the rights body said it is holding all three political parties in the coalition government responsible for the attacks on civil society organizations.
“There has been a resounding silence by the politicians who appear to be more preoccupied with their electoral campaigns and power retention at the expense of undertakings laid out clearly in the Global Political Agreement – undertakings which continue to be broken, discarded and arrogantly ignored.
“Responsibility for the current crackdown lies squarely and fully on the three political parties that form the inclusive government. They have been either powerless to stop the attacks, directly or indirectly involved in the coordination and implementation of the attacks, or simply unconcerned with the challenges faced by those outside their ivory towers.”
Crisis Coalition director McDonald Lewanika told SW Radio Africa that what is happening in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with crimes being committed but is the criminalization of organizations, to stop them from doing their work.
He said NGOs have started engaging the police about this and have arranged meetings with the political principles in order to have their concerns addressed.
“If they are not addressed we will go to the SADC facilitator (President Jacob Zuma) and impress upon him that what is happening does not bode well for the holding of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe and that the regional body and the African needs to do something,” Lewanika warned.
He said the civic groups have also started thinking about street protests if the police continue with their onslaught on civic organisations.
Lewanika said it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who they met last week, has not been able to ‘stop this abuse’ by the police who are answerable to the inclusive government.
Commentators like Rejoice Ngwenya have said street protests and petitions to Zuma should have begun years ago.