By Alex Bell
11 March 2013
Human rights activist Jestina Mukoko is believed to be a target of a deliberate campaign to stop the roll out of a violence monitoring initiative, which she was reportedly involved in.
Mukoko, the Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was last week charged by the police after voluntarily reporting at the Harare Central Police Station. The police had used the state media to say she was ‘wanted’ and was on the run from the law, in a move slammed as a ‘new low’ of persecution by the police force.
Mukoko was charged with contravening the Private Voluntary Organisation Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Customs and Excise Act. In short, the police accused her of running a non-registered organisation and for smuggling radios and cell phones, which had previously been seized during a police raid on the Peace Project offices.
Mukoko denied all the charges and explained to the police that none of the organisation’s activities were in any way illegal. In her statement to the police she also questioned the irregularity of the charges against her. Mukoko was then released into the custody of her lawyers after the interrogation and the police indicated that they would advise of any further action after assessing the docket.
It has since emerged that Mukoko was in the process of starting a violence monitoring initiative, using smart-phone and internet technology to allow people to report incidents of violence. The initiative is using the Ushahidi resource, an online mapping resource that started in Kenya in 2008 to track and map political violence there.
Meaning ‘witness’ or ‘testimony’ in Swahili, Ushahidi has grown over the years to become a free to use, online mapping system, used around the world to report and track issues like violence and corruption. The technology is already used in Zimbabwe to map and report corruption through the ‘I paid a bribe’ anonymous reporting website. A political violence map was also started using Ushahidi in 2011 by the blog 3rdLiberation.
SW Radio Africa was unable to get confirmation from the ZPP about their reported involvement in the Ushahidi programme. Co-Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone was unreachable on Monday because she is currently abroad. But the minister has previously said she has no power over the country’s police, despite her position.
McDonald Lewanika, the Director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said that targeting any NGO for trying to monitor violence is a clear form of persecution.
“What is wrong if people are trying set up this platform? This is citizen policing to ensure violence is monitored and prevented. What is wrong with that? That is not illegal,” Lewanika said.
Machinda Marongwe from the National Association of NGOs (NANGO) told SW Radio Africa that the attempts to criminalise the work of civic groups “make advocacy and lobbying very difficult.”
“When you are tracking violence, the point is to have an early warning system in place to come up with appropriate intervention. But when it is criminalised it means there is someone who is intending to ensure violence is not monitored properly,” Marongwe said.