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Zimbabwe violating several elections protocols
March 24, 2005

NEW YORK - Upcoming parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe face the likelihood of being severely compromised as repression against the country's political opposition increases steadily, Freedom House said today.

As the March 31 elections draw near, reliable reports have emerged about a crackdown by the government of President Robert Mugabe and by members and supporters of his ZANU-PF party. The restrictions are in direct violation of many election protocols established by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

"As pressure mounts against Zimbabwe's already beleaguered democratic opposition, it is imperative that the SADC member states clearly remind Zimbabwe of its obligations in ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "South Africa, as the region's largest and most influential democratic nation, must play a leading role in this regard."

The SADC protocols Zimbabwe has violated include: full participation of citizens in the political process; freedom of association; equal access to state media for all political parties; judicial independence and impartiality of electoral institutions; a conducive environment for free, fair and peaceful elections; and existence of updated and accessible voter rolls.

Government authorities are reportedly withholding food aid from supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and ZANU-PF members are said to be carrying out violent attacks against known MDC supporters. Voter rolls are also said to be rigged, and the government has further tightened restrictions on independent media, including access to media coverage by members of the political opposition.

"Using food aid as a political weapon is a particularly appalling tactic and tantamount to a gross violation of human rights," said Ms.

Windsor. "We encourage the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, currently in session in Geneva, to roundly censure the Mugabe regime for its assault on human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe."

The Zimbabwean government has also barred several international observer missions from entering the country to monitor the elections, ensuring a virtual news blackout on March 31.

The elections come exactly two years after Zimbabwe's last parliamentary vote, which was also characterized by a violent crackdown on MDC supporters.

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