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  • Chamahwinya dates with freedom, ZESN falls into the line of attack
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    February 19, 2013

    Human Rights Defender (HRD) and ZimRights Education Programme Officer, Leo Chamahwinya, who was granted US$1000 bail by Justice Mwayera at Harare's Rotten Row Magistrate Court, on February 18, made his long awaited date with freedom, at the Harare Prison just 8pm on the same day.

    Chamahwinya, overwhelmed with emotion, walked out of the gates and straight into the arms of his wife. Over 50 people, including family, friends and civil society leaders were present to witness this joyous reunion. Chamahwinya had spent 67 days behind bars and had made over 15 court appearances to date, in his bid for freedom. Colleagues had gathered outside the remand gates as early as 4pm, awaiting Chamahwinya's release and in solidarity at the end of his 67-day sojourn to jail, which began on December 13, 2012.

    Present at the emotional reception was one of Chamahwinya's co-accused, ZimRights Director and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Chairperson Okay Machisa, who was released on US$ 500 bail a few weeks ago.

    The two members of ZimRights Secretariat, Machisa and Chamahwinya are being jointly charged with ZimRights represented by Treasurer Nunurai Jena and ZimRights Highfields Local Chapter chairperson, Dorcas Shereni on allegations of forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud, or publishing falsehoods likely to be prejudicial to the State. Dorcas Shereni was also released on US$500 bail while ZimRights was remanded out of custody.

    Barely 15 hours after Chamahwinya's release, and before the shouts of joy on the same had died down, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Zimbabwe's leading watch dog on elections had their offices raided by a group of 6 policemen. The raid, which resulted in the ZESN durawall being vandalised after police knocked down panels and unhinged the gate to gain entry, was based on a warrant identical to the one used to search and seize documents and equipment from the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) on February 11.

    The ZESN raid, like the ZPP one did not result in any arrests, but police are reported to have taken away confidential internal ZESN documents and agreements with other stakeholders.

    Speaking on the ZESN raid, Crisis Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Director MacDonald Lewanika said:

    "This raid on ZESN, just like the one on ZPP and the blitzkrieg unleashed generally on civics this year, is nothing but a fishing expedition by the police, in which they generate general warrants, covering anything and everything in the hope that they find something. We have no doubt that they will try to comb through the confiscated documents and attempt to charge organisations not based on the warrants they used but based on something they hope to find from seized documents. We are clear that ZESN is one of the outstanding law abiding cooperate citizens in this country, whose only crime is promoting democratic elections in Zimbabwe. They just like the myriad of organisations NGOs working on elections in Zimbabwe, are totally undeserving of this kind of attention and treatment by the state and the police."

    Lewanika further stated that, given the nature of documents seized, he was afraid that the state may attempt to "shut ZESN out of observing the referendum and elections and engaging in civic education on the basis of unjustifiable grounds of receiving foreign funding".

    Commenting on Chamahwinya's reunion with freedom the CiZC Director welcomed it but emphasised that the dark cloud of the escalating crackdown on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) needed to be expelled in totality.

    "Our position remains clear, that the release of Chamahwinya is welcome, but is a small victory in the greater scheme of things. What we want is the complete halt of the criminalization of the work of non-governmental organisations, which is happening across the country on an escalating scale.

    "What we want is a free operating environment that adequately guarantees the durable democratiness of Zimbabwe through a free and fair election in line with what is stipulated in the Global Political Agreement (GPA). Anything short of that unequivocal end to unnecessary hostilities being unilaterally perpetrated on NGOs by the state will not warrant celebrations on out part," said Crisis Director.

    Chamahwinya will have to report at Harare Central Police Station once every week, remain at the residence given to the police upon arrest and must not interfere with investigations as part of the bail conditions.

    The release of Chamahwinya finally completes the return journey from remand prison of the three ZimRights officials. Machisa, Shereni and Chamahwinya who had all been incarcerated after raids on the ZimRights offices on December 13. Another ZimRights official Cynthia Manjoro was released in 2012, after spending time in prison on different occasions and allegations, totalling 255 days altogether.

    The raid on the ZimRights offices came barely three days after a Zanu PF 13th annual National People's Conference resolution to disrupt the work on Non-Governmental Organisations. The resolution has been followed by fortifying statements from Zanu-PF top leadership, including Spokeperson Rugare Gumbo and National Chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo.

    The arrest of the ZimRights officials in December 2012 has been widely viewed in the context of a blanket crackdown of non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe. Ahead of the forthcoming elections expected in 2013, eight organizations have been raided in two months. The other organisations, which have been sucked into the blitzkrieg, are WOZA, ZPP, NYDT, NANGO, YIDEZ, CCDZ, COTRAD and the ERC.

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