A community organisation supported by church and other partners has been forced to close its offices in Mbare, Zimbabwe, after being threatened by ruling party militia.
The move comes as the Zimbabwean government, faced with an economic and social crisis across the country, prepares to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds celebrating President Robert Mugabe's birthday - to the outrage of justice and human rights campaigners.
The threats against the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) were made at a meeting in the local church between residents of Mbare, one of the poorest and most crowded districts in Harare, and local leaders.
Militia stormed the meeting, threatening to beat people and warning CHRA that they should close their offices.
The meetings are popular with residents who can raise their concerns about local issues that affect their lives ‚Äì such as the rising cost of water, broken sewers or rubbish collection, reports one of the international funders, Christian Aid.
The most recent meeting coincided with a ruling party meeting in the same area. The ruling party meeting was poorly attended and this, coupled with rising tensions because of the ongoing strikes of doctors and teachers, is believed to have provoked the threats.
In a statement about the situation, the Combined Harare Residents Association said: "The Association would like to assure residents and civic partners that CHRA will not be deterred by this interference but will use it to further mobilise the marginalised community of Mbare."
They continued: "Activities will continue as CHRA finds a new office to continue its action plans. CHRA is concerned with the continued harassment and interference from ZANU PF into Civic Society issues."
They concluded: "The Association would like to reinforce that it is non-partisan and does not deal with political issues. The regime is timid and is now afraid of its own people. It will use violence and any tactics to support residents‚Äô voices demanding change."
CHRA stresses that it is committed to defending residents and "advocating for effective, accountable and transparent governance."
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