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Obstacles to Free and Fair Elections Documented
SADC Observers Must Assess Entire Electoral Process
March 21, 2005
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— Governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
must look at Zimbabwe's entire electoral process as they assess
whether it is free and fair, Human Rights Watch said today.
results of the Zimbabwe elections cannot be based merely on observation
of the last week before the elections," said Tiseke Kasambala,
researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. "If
SADC members fail to take into account abuses in the long run-up
to the polls, SADC’s ability to foster democratic change in the
region will be compromised." - Tiseke Kasambala researcher
in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch
Watch’s 35-page paper, "Not
a Level Playing Field: Zimbabwe’s 2005 Parliamentary Elections,"
documents cases of political intimidation of opposition parties,
their supporters and ordinary citizens by the ruling Zimbabwe African
National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and its political allies.
The paper also highlights the government’s use of repressive laws
to restrict the activities of political parties and civil society
activists. The paper is based on research conducted by Human Rights
Watch in several regions of Zimbabwe in December 2004 and February
"The people of Zimbabwe should go to the polls in an atmosphere
free from intimidation," said Kasambala. "The government
has denied the opposition, civil society activists and ordinary
citizens the right to freely express their opinions."
Human Rights Watch’s briefing paper sets out specific cases of intimidation
and violations of the right to association, expression and assembly:
- A local headmaster
in Chipinge South Manicaland described being beaten and accused
of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
by local ZANU PF youth. On August 2, 2004, several ZANU PF youth
came to his school and beat and threatened him in front of fellow
teachers and school children. Nine days later, the youth paraded
him at a ZANU PF rally and forced him to apologize for being an
MDC supporter. Although he reported the case to the police, no
arrests were made and he was unable to return to his school, as
ZANU PF youth continued to threaten him.
- An NGO youth
activist in Bulawayo described how Central Intelligence Organization
officers arrested him after a youth workshop in late January 2005:
"They questioned me and told me that the (ZANU PF) primaries
had been poorly attended by the youth and we strongly believe
that you are the guys from the MDC who are telling people not
to participate. They left me in a room for three hours. Then they
put me in an open truck (it was raining) and drove me to Harare
Central Police station where I was interrogated again. I was accused
of being MDC. They were saying: who are you to mobilize young
people?" He was detained overnight in Bulawayo and spent
another night in Harare Central Police Station. The police threatened
to charge him under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) for
holding a meeting likely to breach the peace, but later released
him without charge.
- On January
23, 2005, up to fifty riot police disrupted a private workshop
in Bulawayo and arrested and detained an MDC Member of Parliament
for Makokoba constituency, Thokozani Khupe, and sixty-two others.
They were charged under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA)
for holding a public meeting without permission. Khupe was detained
overnight and then released on bail.
Human Rights Watch said that media organizations and independent
newspapers have been constantly under threat of closure under the
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which has been
selectively used by the government against independent journalists
and media organizations perceived to be critical of the government.
This has led to the closure of a number of independent newspapers.
On February 25, a weekly independent newspaper, the Weekly Times,
closed after the government-run Media and Information Commission
accused it of presenting misleading information about its publications
and cancelled its license for one year.
In preparation for the election, the government enacted two new
electoral laws, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act and the Electoral
Act. The government has claimed that these laws live up to the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing
Democratic Elections, but Human Rights Watch found that these new
laws fail to adequately meet the benchmarks set by the Principles
and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
Human Rights Watch urged SADC member states to call on the government
of Zimbabwe to ensure that in the days remaining before the election,
efforts are made to guarantee that all candidates are able to campaign
freely and openly throughout the country, that all candidates have
access to the media, that journalists and observers are not prevented
from observing the election process in all areas of the country,
and that voters are allowed to make up their minds and vote in an
environment free of intimidation.
"SADC member states and election observers have a responsibility
to spotlight the flaws in the entire electoral process," Kasambala
said. "The fact that the early campaign period has been marred
by such human rights abuses certainly undermines the electoral process
Human Rights Watch called on the SADC observer mission to issue
a thorough and objective report analyzing whether the March 31 elections
comply with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic
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