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Zimbabwe Targets Human Rights Groups - 2004-07-19


Zimbabwe is threatening to close down some human rights organizations and arrest their employees unless they obtain government permission to operate. The government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper reports a new law to tighten control over non-governmental organizations will be introduced soon.

The permanent secretary in the welfare ministry, Lancaster Museka, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that any non-governmental organization operating without registration will be closed down, and its employees arrested.

New legislation will tighten existing law, which requires NGOs to register, by giving the state the power to screen organizations and clamp down on activities the government disapproves. Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana was quoted by the newspaper as saying there was "too much room for NGOs to engage in politics."

Many pro-democracy organizations, which operate as trusts answerable not to the government but to members, said they will likely not be allowed to operate if they are forced to register as NGOs.

Brian Kagoro, co-chairman of the human rights group, the Crisis Coalition, says he has seen a draft of the proposed new law, and described it as "terrible." He said if the draft legislation is enacted by parliament, it would make it illegal for trusts to continue.

He said the enactment of the non-governmental organizations bill will spell the end of his organization.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change legislator Tendai Biti said the proposed law is designed by the ruling Zanu-PF as yet another restriction on the peoples' shrinking rights and freedoms.

Pro-democracy groups multiplied in Zimbabwe after the 2000 parliamentary elections in which the opposition MDC came close to winning a majority. The elections were followed by a government crackdown on the media and violence against political opposition.

Human rights monitors say more than 90 percent of victims of politically motivated violence were either members of the MDC or were accused of being opposition sympathizers.

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