I share here an email I received from Amnesty International on 13 June 2013, the day Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Proclaimed the 31st of July 2013 as an Election Day.
It isn’t just violence on the streets we fear a repeat of. Away from the eyes of the world, activists face brutality and intimidation for carrying out their work to defend human rights, work which is more crucial than ever at election time.
In December 2008, Jestina Mukoko of human rights monitoring organisation, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) was abducted by armed men thought to be state security agents. She was tortured and held in secret for three weeks before being dumped at a police station. The ZPP had dared to criticise the violence and human rights abuses committed during the 2008 elections.
We have seen the warning signs: radios confiscated, activists’ offices raided, a prominent human rights lawyer arbitrarily arrested. Jestina Mukoko herself has already faced harassment at the hands of the authorities.
She was at home one evening in early March when an alert went out on state television saying she was ‘on the run’ from the police. Since she wasn’t on the run, she went to her local police station – and was arrested. While Jestina was being questioned, it was announced that those under police investigation were no longer allowed to monitor elections. We fear this is merely a sign of things to come.
Act now to protect human rights defenders in Zimbabwe
The power to prevent activists like Jestina Mukoko and others like that 84-year-old woman our researcher met from suffering a similar fate this time round, lies with Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
In 2008, it was SADC’s intervention that stemmed the bloodshed. This time, we want them to use their influence to prevent the violence from happening in the first place, and send in human rights monitors so that human rights defenders and activists can carry out their work without fear.
No-one should be beaten into silence – whether for expressing their political opinions or exposing human rights abuses. But with less than 48 days before the polls open, SADC must step in now to ensure Zimbabwe’s elections are free from violence and fear.
Human Rights Defenders Programme