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On Solid Ground - Issue 01
Heal Zimbabwe Trust
April 04, 2013

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Clampdown on Human Rights Defenders as the Referendum process winds down

Just after people voted peacefully during the referendum, a dark cloud hung over Harare as renowned Human Rights lawyer, Ms Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested on allegations of obstructing the course of justice. The charges arose after Ms Mtetwa had gone to attend to her client, Thabani Mpofu who was arrested at his workplace during a raid by the police.

The arrest of Beatrice Mtetwa while she was carrying out her duties is not meant to frustrate her alone but also to send fear and shivers to the majority of Zimbabweans who look up to her as a firm and principled human rights defender.

What is worrying is that if renowned and fearless lawyers like Beatrice Mtetwa can be arrested and detained under such circumstances, then what will happen to a number of activists across the country that do not carry such a status as hers? HZT therefore calls for the general respect of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

Elections in the country have been synonymous with violence, intimidation and unwarranted arrests of human rights defenders. Although cases of political violence were few during the referendum, the operating environment was still stifled like in other past elections especially for those that were supporting the "NO" vote. The

“NO” vote campaigners had some of their campaign meetings disrupted by the police. Even the Prime Minister who was in support of the draft, had to reschedule his meeting in Highfields after his initial meeting was disrupted by the police.

Hate speech also characterized the referendum with both camps of the “NO” and “YES” vote making separate rude statements, outwitting each other during their separate public meetings held in various areas. In light of this, HZT calls upon the people of Zimbabwe to embrace a culture of political tolerance which enables them to accept that they can co-exist despite their political differences.

As the country gears up for an election, it is imperative that the Government guarantee people’s safety and should make a commitment that arbitrary arrests which have become the norm, come to an end.

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