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Statement on the arrest of civil society leaders in Victoria Falls
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
October 26, 2009

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition strongly condemns the arrests of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (NANGO) Director, Mr. Cephas Zinhumwe and Chairperson Ms. Dadirai Chikwengo on the 25th of October 2009 at the Director's Summer School in Victoria Falls under Section 25.1.b of the nefarious Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The charges arose from a statement issued by civil society leaders at the Summer School, expressing concern on the governance crisis, and the slow progress with regards to implementation of the Global Political Agreement, which the police deemed political.

The Police alleged that the School, held annually since 2006 to provide a space for enhancement of leadership capacities for civil society leaders, was a political meeting, which needed clearance from them. The Coalition believes, and asserts, that there is nothing criminal about Civic Society Directors meeting under the auspices of their mother body, or even Zimbabweans engaging in political activity, as it is their constitutional right to do so.
Ms. Chikwengo and Mr. Zinhumwe's arrests come as no surprise as members of the police force continue demanding notifications from civil society for internal meetings, and also as part of ZANU PF's only known response to mounting pressure for it to comply with what it acceded to under the GPA, and Zimbabweans' calls for greater freedoms and meaningful reforms.

In September 2009, The Coalition was forced to secure a police clearance for an Annual General Meeting while the Coordinator; Mr. McDonald Lewanika was summoned to the Harare Central Police Station for convening a Democracy and Governance Award ceremony without notification on the 25th of September. These actions by the Zimbabwean police are in direct violation of the Freedoms of Assembly and Association as protected in Zimbabwe's constitution and in Article 12 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which calls on Parties ' . . . to work together in a manner which guarantees the full implementation and realization of the right to freedom of association and assembly . . . '. These rights are further enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights to which Zimbabwe is a state party.

The shrinkage of political space and disrespect for fundamental freedoms come amid growing concerns over utterances made by members of the Zimbabwe National Army down playing the critical role of civil society organizations and threatening decisive action against those who engage in political activities. The developments also come against the background of further deterioration of the Zimbabwean political environment which saw the re-arrest of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Treasurer General, Roy Bennett before his subsequent release on bail; the raiding of an MDC executive house in Highlands on charges of possessing stolen arms that allegedly went missing from Pomona barracks, the arrest of two MDC Members of Parliament, Honorable Reggie Moyo and Honorable Albert Mhlanga in Bulawayo and the reincarnation of politically motivated violence across the country.

These attacks and arrests are clearly vindictive and can be without doubt attributed to the announcement to "disengage from ZANU PF" by the Movement for Democratic Change led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Zimbabwe is currently at a standstill with minimal progress recorded towards addressing key issues of concern to civic society and Zimbabweans at large, which include reform of state institutions including the security services and police force and repeal of repressive laws including POSA to ensure a smooth transition to democracy. The Coalition believes that the absence of a clear roadmap towards sanitizing key government institutions and the continued presence of repressive laws is negatively affecting the country's progress towards improving the political environment, which, to all intents and purposes impacts negatively on the social and economic environment.

The Coalition therefore demands the following;

1. The immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Zinhumwe and Ms. Chikwengo as well as their co-accused Mr. Godwin Phiri, since their continued incarceration and arraignment is unjustified and illegal

2. That, ZANU PF and partisan elements of the Police force should desist from using the law as a tool for intimidation and victimization of citizens going about their legitimate business.

3. That, ZANU PF and its cohorts in the state should recant from the easy resort to violence, cohesion, victimisation and intimidation of concerned and dissenting voices, and should instead move towards dealing with matters of concern that would have been raised.

4. That, the state and its institutions should demonstrate respect for fundamental rights and observance of the rule of law.

5. That, meaningful institutional reform be put in place to ensure that the police and other uniformed forces act within the confines of both the constitution, and acts governing their operations.6. That, repressive and colonial style laws, especially POSA, which is used to suffocate freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe, be repealed.

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