Women activists blast police

HARARE - At least 10 civil society groups are facing the sword, as police intensify a crackdown on non-governmental organisations which has now attracted global attention.

The Daily News can reveal that police are combing through potential evidence to nail the 10 civil society groups, whose operations include documenting cases of human rights abuses and electoral irregularities.

Under siege NGOs, on the other hand, say they are rushing to Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement broker, Sadc, for respite after police bosses gave the green light for an intensified crackdown.

“We want to meet President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube so that this uncouth police behaviour is brought to an end. We are not ending there; we are taking the matter up with Sadc because we believe this is an uncultured and uncivilised behaviour that security agents want to enforce on Zimbabweans,” said Okay Machisa, director of ZimRights, one of the organisations under spotlight from police.

“If they (police) want to ban radios (Elton Microlink radio sets), they should also ban Chinese cellphones because we receive news and information on these gadgets. Where on earth have you seen a normal police force banning radio sets? It is barbaric and an illegal action which we are not going to condone,” said Machisa.

Sadc is heavily involved in Zimbabwe’s internal politics after acting as the mediator and guarantor of the power sharing Global Political Agreement, which saw bitter rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai turn into uneasy coalition government partners.

Sadc has warned against a repeat of the 2008 violence which broke out after Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai in first round voting.  A subsequent runoff turned into a farce after Tsvangirai pulled out citing gross violence led by the military, forcing Sadc to intervene.

The crackdown, which comes ahead of watershed polls to be held most likely in June, has raised fears of a violent campaign involving State agents. And it appears police are not letting up.

Police sources told the Daily News that the crackdown on NGOs will continue until after elections, with more arrests expected soon.

According to police sources, the onslaught, which started in Harare, will be spread to target other NGOs based in areas where Zanu PF’s popularity is waning such as Masvingo and Matabeleland region.

Most of the targeted NGOs are involved in human rights, democracy and election related work.

“These groups are no longer safe. At least 10 are on the radar,” said a source.

Security agents are looking at every detail of their operations and very soon it will be Armageddon against these groups. If you look closely at Zimbabwe Peace Project, that organisation will be scrutinised carefully to establish what its agenda is in the coming elections,” said a police source.

NGOs under surveillance by police include Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, Counselling Services Unit, ZimRights, ZPP, Zimbabwe Election Support Network and other groups perceived to be pro-democracy.

Last week, police spokesperson Charity Charamba warned NGOs that arrests were imminent, claiming that some of the organisations had infiltrated Zanu PF and were a risk to State security.

She said ZPP has given naming codes to all political parties in a bid to mislead the public.

“ZRP (police) has it on good authority that certain entities like the Zimbabwe Peace Project purport to be engaged in humanitarian work as an NGO whereas they are an illegal conduit to the regime change agenda by carrying out covert political activities tantamount to causing a threat to State security and violating the country’s laws,” she said.

“From evidence gathered so far, arrests will be made but as you know we investigate to arrest we don’t just arrest until we have facts and evidence at hand,” Charamba said.

Her boss, commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, made similar threats at a pass-out parade on Thursday saying NGOs working against Zanu PF would be crushed.

“May I warn such unscrupulous elements bent on propagating and perpetuating violence in a naive agenda of tarnishing the image of the country, that the police will maintain a zero tolerance,” he said.

“The long arm of the law shall descend heavily on these malcontents irrespective of their status in life,” he said. - Xolisani Ncube

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