from MARCUS MUSHONGA / DANAI MWARUMBA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE, (CAJ News) – THE arrest of 25 members of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party and alleged physical assault of the lawyer representing them mirrors the repression by authorities as the country approaches elections.
Dates for this year’s polls have not been set but the clampdown against dissent and political violence is ongoing.
Members of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) were arrested this past weekend in the capital, Harare.
Police also arrested their lawyer, Kudzai Kadzere, who was allegedly assaulted by the law enforcers.
Amnesty International denounced the arrest of members of a political opposition party simply for holding a meeting at a private residence.
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa, said this was a shameless assault by Zimbabwean authorities against the rights to privacy, to liberty and security of persons and to freedom of expression.
“Their chilling message is unmistakable,” the activist said.
“It is clear that Zimbabwe authorities will go after anyone who dares oppose them in the upcoming elections,” Mwangovya said.
Amnesty has called for the release of the 25 individuals and all charges against them dropped.
“Zimbabwe authorities must respect the right to freedom of assembly in the run-up to the election,” said Mwangovya.
“It is also disgraceful that the police tried to deny these 25 individuals their human right to have access to counsel by physically assaulting their lawyer as he tried to confer with his clients.”
The CCC legislators Amos Chibaya and Costa Machingauta, Members of Parliament for Mkoba (Midlands) and Budiriro (Harare) respectively, were among those arrested.
The 25 individuals were charged under Section 37 of the Criminal Code, with “participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry, and appeared in court on 16 January.”
Zimbabwean law requires political parties to notify authorities two weeks before holding a political meeting.
The NelsoN Chamisa-led CCC, however, argued its gathering was a private meeting held at the residence of one of its members. Notification requirements should thus not apply in this instance.
The government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa inherited such draconian legislation from the regime of Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe, now late, was in power from independence in 1980 until he was toppled in a coup in 2017.
Mnangagwa assumed the presidency on an interim basis and was elected a year later in an election that was followed by the fatal shooting of six protesters by the army.
Zimbabwe has a record of election violence, most of it blamed on the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
– CAJ News