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RFK Center denounces arrest of ZimRights director
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

January 17, 2013

On Wednesday, January 16, Mr. Machisa was denied bail by a Harare Magistrate and remanded in custody until January 30 on dubious grounds. The magistrate, Tendai Mahwe, reasoned that granting bail in this case was unacceptable for three reasons. First, Mr. Machisa's alleged offense was meant to "discredit national institutions," and second, the court needs additional time to gather necessary evidence. Third, the magistrate argued that the public would "lose confidence in the justice system" if Mr. Machisa, or his deputy, were released from prison, particularly since the case is of "national interest."

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) denounced the arrest of Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and the most recent target in a series of arrests against Zimbabwean civil society activists in the lead up to the nation's 2013 election.

Since August of last year, nearly a dozen organizations - including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit, and the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe - have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests, and physical abuse at the hands of police. Mr. Machisa's arrest, on the grounds of conspiring to "commit voter registration fraud and publishing or communicating falsehoods"occurred just one month after the arrest of his deputy at ZimRights, Leo Chamahwinya.

Political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to Zimbabwean elections. During the nation's previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe's hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the police, security forces, and associated militias. With elections once again on the horizon, it is of paramount importance for the Zimbabwean government to cultivate an environment that is conducive to peace, social cohesion, and free and fair polls.

"The increasingly brazen steps that Zimbabwean authorities have taken to block civic activism are an unsettling reminder of the violence and intimidation that has marred past elections," said Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center. "In December, President Mugabe resolved to deregister so-called 'errant' civic groups that 'deviate from their mandate' during his annual political party conference in December. The international community, and in particular, leaders from the Southern African Development Community, must urge the government of Zimbabwe to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against civil society organizations and human rights activists."

Okay Machisa and Leo Chamahwinya remain in custody awaiting bail.

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