Zimbabwean human rights activist detained ahead of elections

By agency reporter
18 Jan 2013

A leading human rights activist in Zimbabwe, Okay Machisa, was arrested and denied bail earlier this week as part of what Amnesty International says is an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression in the country ahead of this year's presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Machisa, who is the director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), was arrested on 13 January in Harare and charged with publishing falsehoods, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration. He is remanded in custody until 30 January.

Another ZimRights official, Leo Chamahwinya, was arrested on 13 December 2012, and remains in detention. He faces the same charges.

Amnesty International’s southern Africa Director Noel Kututwa said: "This case has the hallmarks of politically motivated prosecutions calculated to instil fear among human rights defenders as the country prepares for elections sometime in the year.

"Many other human rights workers and NGO staff have been harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily detained by police as part of the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression in the country ahead of the elections.

"The authorities must act to halt such rights abuses and release all those detained as part of this crackdown. These cases cast doubt on whether the country is ready to hold a violence free election."

Both ZimRights officials are charged with contravening Section 31, 136 and 137 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly attempting to defraud the Registrar General’s Office by forging and manufacturing counterfeit copies of voter registration.

Others recently arrested and detained as part of the crackdown include Fidelis Mudimu, Zachariah Godi and Tafadzwa Geza, senior staff members of the Counselling Services Unit (CSU) a registered medical clinic treating victims of organised violence and torture.

All three were arbitrarily arrested after police raided their offices in Harare in November 2012. They were unlawfully detained and illegally transferred from Harare and Bulawayo.

They were released after four days in custody and charged with "causing malicious damage to property". The charges against Fidelis Mudimu were later dropped for lack of evidence as he was out of the country at the time the crimes were allegedly committed.

[Ekk/4]

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