A U.N. special rapporteur has voiced concern about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, where a number of human rights defenders and opposition activists are facing charges, with some being jailed. The call comes as the country prepares for elections in August and as the nation is waiting for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to announce a date for the polls.
In an interview from her base in Geneva by WhatsApp, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor says the number of human rights activists facing charges ahead of Zimbabwe’s elections is concerning.
“I am very concerned about ongoing legal proceedings against human rights defenders because they are people who are working peacefully for the rights of others," she said. "It is legitimate, credible work. There should be no criminalization, no arrests, no torture of human rights defenders. That includes freedom of association, freedom of expression and working for those who are marginalized.”
Lawlor says the Zimbabwean government should drop the charges and release those who have been jailed.
Obert Masaraure is the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teacher's Union of Zimbabwe, which fights for rights of educators that work in rural areas. He is facing charges of inciting public violence, obstructing justice, subversion and murder but has been released on bail. He says that despite the charges, he will not budge.
“It’s not proper for Emmerson Mnangagwa to continue persecuting people through prosecution," Masaraure said. "The ongoing lawfare against citizens who are viewed as enemies of Mnangagwa should stop now. Zimbabwe is not Mnangagwa’s tuck-shop. Mnangagwa should learn to respect our fundamental rights as defined in the constitution. All the four charges I face today they violate my basic rights. They violate my freedom of expression: the one on posting on Twitter, they violate my freedom to petition duty bearers. They are ridiculous charges meant to silence us. And we demand an end to this persecution and full observance of the people’s rights as defined in our bill of rights.”
He called for the release of jailed opposition activists such as Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngaruvhume before the general election, a date for which has not yet been set by President Mnangagwa.
In a response for request for an interview from VOA, Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s information ministry secretary, said, “As government we don’t interfere with the criminal justice system.”
Lawlor also wants the elections to be peaceful.
“The vote must be free and fair, and election observers should be allowed to do their work, without any kind of stopping them in any way," said Lawlor. "Also, the election process should be completely transparent from start to finish.”
Zimbabwe’s past elections have been marred by violence and accusations of a lack of transparency.