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African heads 'must share blame for rigged Zimbabwe election
Fred Bridgland, The Times (UK)
March 21, 2005

A human rights team reveals exclusively to The Times that Mugabe intimidation tactics are rife

IT IS impossible for Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election, due in ten days’ time, to be free and fair, according to a powerful report to be released today.

The Human Rights Watch document, based on the work of an undercover team that has spent several weeks inside Zimbabwe, confirms widespread suspicions that opposition supporters face daily intimidation, ‘The Times’ has learnt.

The report accuses the Government of President Mugabe of lacking respect for the basic freedoms of expression, association and assembly and says that the poll will be based on an electoral roll manipulated to favour Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu (PF) party.

The Mugabe Government has faced such criticism many times in recent years, but this report is likely to have a greater impact among Zimbabwe’s neighbours because it measures the conduct of the campaign against an agreement that was signed by 14 heads of state, including Mr Mugabe himself. It criticises the other heads of state for failing to press Mr Mugabe to fulfil his obligations under that agreement.

"The same partisan electoral institutions that supervised flawed [parliamentary and presidential] processes in 2000 and 2002 are supervising electoral processes for the 2005 elections," the 36-page report, ‘Not A Level Playing Field’, says.

The researchers set the campaign record of Zanu (PF) against the principles and guidelines set out for the poll at an urgent meeting of heads of state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last August.

Mr Mugabe was one of the signatories to the document, whose listed principles call for full participation of citizens in the political process; freedom of association; political tolerance; equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media; independence of the judiciary; independence of the media; impartiality of the electoral institutions; and voter education.

"With only days remaining before voters go to the polls, it is clear that the Government has not adequately met the benchmarks set by the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections," the report, which is to be released in Johannesburg, says. "The Government has . . . restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in many parts of the country. Opposition party members and ordinary citizens have been intimidated by ruling party supporters and officials, [pre-1980 liberation] war veterans and [Mr Mugabe’s personal] youth militia."

The damning report dissects the degree to which Mr Mugabe has implemented each of the principles that he signed up to, and concludes: "The Government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated its lack of respect for the basic freedoms prescribed in the SADC guidelines . . . As a result the elections are highly unlikely to reflect the free expression of the electorate."

Examining repressive laws introduced by the Mugabe Government, most notably the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act 2003 and the Public Order and Security Act 2002, the report concludes that as many as 500 domestic and international reporters had been arrested and detained for varying lengths of time over the past two years. At least five of them had been arrested on more than one occasion.

Among the draconian clauses of the acts are one making it an offence to criticise Mr Mugabe and another making it an offence to publish loosely defined "false statements . . . prejudicial to the State".

The report says that there are as many Zimbabweans of voting age outside the country as inside. About 3.4 million people over 18 have left the country in the past four years as political or economic refugees.

Exiled Zimbabweans, the majority of whom would most likely vote for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were last week denied the right to vote by post by Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, a Mugabe loyalist and former Justice Minister, said: "This application has no merit." He gave no other reason for his judgment.

Many remaining residents over the age of 18 had been disenfranchised because of a deeply flawed registration procedure and a refusal of the right of opposition parties to inspect voters’ rolls, which are believed to contain up to 800,000 "ghost" voters. Many adults in urban areas, which in recent years have returned MDC candidates to parliament, have been refused registration because they cannot provide rates bills in their name or credit accounts from a shop accompanied by a lawyer’s affidavit.

The report says that despite Mr Mugabe’s public calls for a peaceful election there are "high levels of intimidation in parts of the country . . . by Zanu [PF] supporters". Government opponents were unable to campaign in some parts of the country, and they had no protection from state institutions because "the judiciary, the police and the civil service have been restructured to ensure that party loyalists are at the helm".

Commenting on Mr Mugabe’s continuing restrictions, Professor Welshman Ncube, the MDC secretary-general, said: "There has been no pressure on Mugabe from countries in Africa [to respect the SADC principles]. The real pressure, the real things that Mugabe feels, are the targeted [Western] sanctions."

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