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November 08, 2012

Civil Societies in Zimbabwe Fear Pre-Election Crackdown

by Sebastian Mhofu

Civil society coalitions in Zimbabwe have raised concerns over the spate of recent police arrests targeting dissenting voices.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and analysts fear the crackdown will intensify as the country prepares for elections to end Zimbabwe's coalition government next year.  The NGOs and analysts say President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, which controls the police, wants to do away with organizations that watch for human rights violations.

This week Zimbabwe’s police raided offices of the Counseling Services Unit (CSU), an organization that offers medical and psychological treatment to people who have been traumatized or tortured.  The police said it was looking for some illegal equipment which it said the CSU was hiding. Three CSU employees were arrested in the raid.

Abel Chikomo, a representative of civil society coalitions in Zimbabwe, comments on the arrests.

“They were not even informed of the reasons for the deprivation of their liberty as required by the law. The search warrant was too broad and vague to be valid," said Chikomo.

Chikomo said civil society coalitions in Zimbabwe have asked for a meeting with the country’s head of police to raise their concerns.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri did not answer his phone when VOA attempted to reach him for comment.

Cephas Zinhumwe, the head of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (NANGO) says the groups are hoping the police will stop their harassment.

"The most important thing is to meet and record our complaints with him. We might get positive response. The positive response for us is for our members be able to go and work,” said Zinhumwe.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a Zimbabwean student working on a doctorate at Britain's University of Westminster, is not surprised the police are targeting the CSU and other Zimbabwean NGOs. 

“I think these are early warning signs that the government is preparing for an election.  Obviously we know that elections in Zimbabwe are always violent, and institutions such as the CSU are those that are credible that record violations, keep credible evidence on the transgressions against citizens’ civil and political liberties," said said Ruhanya. "So it is meant to intimidate and stop these organizations from doing their work.”

Pro-Mugabe security forces carried out a campaign of beatings and killings during Zimbabwe's 2008 elections, and observers have warned ZANU-PF may be preparing for another round of violence to make sure it wins the polls this time.

The elections are expected by June of next year, although they could be held up if the country’s main political parties cannot agree on the contents of a new constitution.