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Statement on criminalisation of human rights defenders
Zimbabwean Civil Society Organisations
March 08, 2013

We, the undersigned Zimbabwean Civil Society Organizations, condemn the sustained and escalating assault on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision by the State.

These flagrant, intimidatory and repressive attacks on civil society organizations and their leaders culminated in the Friday 08 March 2013 charging of Zimbabwe Peace Project national director Jestina Mukoko with contravening the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Customs and Excise Act. The criminalization of the work of civil society by the Government of National Unity is in direct contradiction with the letter and spirit of the Global Political Agreement. It appears to us that the persecution of Jestina, who is not at anytime a fugitive from justice, is a direct victimization of an individual, who has been a victim of abduction by State security agents. State actions against Jestina were condemned by the Supreme Court and her prosecution quashed.

We have over a lengthy period of time taken note and documented the intensive harassment and obstruction of the work of CSOs through intimidations, raids, issuance of vague and generalised search warrants, arrests, persecution and prosecution.

Such harassment is meant to discredit civil society as unpatriotic and devoid of national interest. The relentless assault on CSOs and accusing them of several unfounded misdemeanors is to suggest to the public the existence of a wide-ranging conspiracy targeting the stability of the country and to paint civil society organisations as a danger to State security.

Zimbabwean authorities, particularly the police, are fully aware of the role of civil society in a democracy but they have deliberately elected to mislead public opinion about our legitimate activities and continuously seek to impeach us on flimsy grounds.

We unequivocally deny all the insinuations and willful misrepresentations of our legitimate work. These allegations are meant to distract the attention of the public and international community from the important issues which the country is faced with. The issues include, among others, the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement, the holding of free and fair elections and critical institutional and legislative reforms meant to incubate the respect of the will of the people.

We hold the three political parties that form the inclusive government as responsible for the current crackdown on CSOs. Their failure to stop the unjustified attacks on CSOs, is testimony that they are involved in the coordination and implementation of the attacks and are not concerned with the challenges faced by those outside their ivory towers.

We therefore call upon;

1. the inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to immediately cease the harassment and criminalisation of CSOs and urgently take measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.

2. We further implore the inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to create an enabling operating environment for civil society in accordance with the Constitution, various regional and international norms to which Zimbabwe has bound itself through the African Union and the United Nations, which clearly protect the rights of human rights defenders to associate, organise and carry out peaceful activities, and the right of human rights organisations to exist and be protected by law. In particular, the following minimum requirements in policy and practice for civil society to operate should be guaranteed: freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and the right to operate free from unwarranted State interference.

3. the police and prosecuting authorities to exercise professionalism and carry out their duties in a non-partisan manner and desist from the intimidation of human rights defenders.

We are convinced that these concerted attempts to criminalise and discredit our interventions in communities are wholly associated with the impending elections. We thus call upon the Southern African Development Community, as the guarantors of the coalition government and in line with its earlier summit resolutions, and the African Union, to exhort the Government of Zimbabwe to allow CSOs in Zimbabwe to operate without being criminalised, intimidated and harassed, as key prerequisites for the holding of free and fair.

Endorsed by:

Combined Harare Residents Association; Counselling Services Unit; Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition; Kubatana; Media Alliance of Zimbabwe; National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations; National Constitutional Assembly; Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe; Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions; Zimbabwe Election Support Network; Zimbabwe Human Rights Association; Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum; Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights; Zimbabwe Peace Project; Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association

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