'Civil society clampdown taints poll'

JOHANNESBURG - A coalition of Zimbabwe civil society has warned that the contentious July 31 poll date has dashed hopes for a free and fair election environment.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a conglomeration of more than 350 civic society organisations raised fresh fears of retrogression as doubts persist that the country will implement recommendations of the recent Sadc summit which met in Maputo, Mozambique last week.

“We are of the same view that the 31st of July deadline has literally retrogressed efforts towards the creation of a conducive electoral environment to ensure the holding of credible, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe,” Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson, Thabani Nyoni, told journalists here yesterday.

“The role of Sadc in monitoring the progress and compliance of the inclusive government remains essential and imperative for the conduct of free and fair elections. It is our belief that it is only through implementation of the framework guaranteed by Sadc and AU (African union) that Zimbabwe can be able to have free, fair and peaceful elections whose outcome will be respected by all political players, Sadc and the AU.”

On Tuesday, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa appealed against the Constitutional Court ruling ordering elections to be held on July 31 in line with a Sadc summit resolution where the government was urged to seek an extension, but the application was repudiated by principals yesterday.

Chinamasa had said in the appeal that President Robert Mugabe had no problem with the date and had already complied with the order but was seeking the delay following the intervention of regional leaders.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvagirai said yesterday Chinamasa had filed a weak application without authority from all the ruling parties.

Chinamasa’s appeal said: “I reiterate that His Excellency, the President, RG Mugabe, is respectful of the ruling by this Honourable Court that the rule of law should be restored as regards the electoral process and thus has fully complied with the order of this court in terms of the law without any legal difficulties or impediments.”

Already the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it is preparing for a July 31 poll unless the court rules otherwise.

At yesterday’s meeting, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition warned that the operating environment was deteriorating with human rights defenders (HRDs) and Civic Society Organisations (CSOs), the most targeted.

The coalition revealed that in the past eight months, several coalitions and networks of CSOs representing over 500 000 members have been targeted and criminalised.

“The ongoing and intensifying clampdown on CSOs and HRDs remains a matter of great concern,” Nyoni said.

“Between October 2012 and April 2013, police have detained and or arrested a total of 681 HRDs. Of the 681 HRDs, 360 were from CSOs and only 20 have been prosecuted.  

“Lawyers providing legal aid to CSOs and HRDs have also been obnoxiously targeted to unsettle the sector and instil fear through threats, arrests and prosecution based on frivolous charges.

“The assault on CSOs has been strategic, intentional, well-planned, and well-resourced and implemented by State apparatus.”

Among the key concerns of civil society are outstanding media reforms and the election management and administration which has stoked fires in the inclusive government.

“Despite the fact that Zec has limited capacity and resources to conduct effective voter education and registration, the exercise remains exclusionary and chaotic. Given that we are now eight days into the 30-day constitutionally mandated voter registration period and 42 days before the holding of harmonised elections based on the 31st of July election date unilaterally decreed by the president, we are concerned that Zec has not accredited or announced any civil society organisation to conduct voter education,” Nyoni said.

“Onerous provisions in the Electoral Act regarding the provision of voter education have been used to exclude CSOs and criminalise their lawful work. We note with concern the disenfranchisement of the eligible voters that could ensue due to the limited timeframe being allocated for the purposes of inspecting the voter’s roll. Additionally the synchronising of the voter registration and the voter’s roll inspection could disadvantage many eligible voters.”

Sadc leaders implored Mugabe and his coalition partners to create conditions conducive to the holdings of free and fairs elections.

Among the key outcomes of the summit were the extension of the election date and reforms in the media and security sector.

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and Official Secrets Act have been used against the media and remain in force.

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