Harare, January 19, 2013 – Detained Zimrights director, Okay Machisa, said on Friday he will remain strong despite his lock up in remand prison on charges of publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting an illegal voter registration.
“I am strong, and will not be defeated by what I am going through,” he told Zimbabwe Coalition Crisis which was among scores of visitors who visited Machisa at the cramped Harare remand prison.
“I know everything will be okay, because I actually do not know what we are supposed to have done wrong, and have already informed both the police, and the courts that ZimRights was not party to anything that is not part of its mandate.”
Remand Prison was a hive of activity by visitors who wanted to see Machisa who is also chairperson of Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition as well as ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, Leo Chamahwinya.
Chamahwinya was arrested together with ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni last December while Machisa handed himself to police this week. The three were this week remanded to January 30 on the same charges.
Shereni is remanded at a separate prison, Chikurubi maximum for female prisoners.
However, visitors had to be turned away, as Chamahwinya and Machisa, asked not to see any more visitors because their legs were hurting from the uncomfortable leg irons as they were being moved up and down between their cells and the visiting area.
The over 20 people who had gone to remand Prison to visit the ZimRights team, had to petition the Officer in Charge at the Prison to be allowed to see the two, but the petition was unsuccessful, as the Member in Charge said he had to have special clearance from Head Office to allow group visits.
A human rights activist, Abel Chikomo, who was one of the four who saw Machisa, thanked his colleagues in civil society locally and internationally for the solidarity, and urged members of ZimRights to continue with their work, and sleep easy in the knowledge that right was on their side,.
He said the institution was not guilty of any wrong doing. Chikomo who had handed in the petition signed by 57 organisations, was accompanied by Professor Lovemore Madhuku (NCA), Irene Petras and s Rose Hanzi, both of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
Others who visited Machisa but were unable to see him included Cythia Manjoro, Nomalanga Masaire, veteran Human Rights Defender Tony Releer, NCA Spokesperson Madock Chivasa, Crisis Director McDonald Lewanika, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe Director Patience Zirima, Crisis staffers Nixon Nyikadzino and Memory Kadua as well as ZIMCET Director Gladys Hlatywayo.
The petition highlighted that the targeting of NGOs was indicative of the closing of democratic and electoral space ahead of elections, saying that it seemed that all NGO’s dealing with election related matters would be criminalised.
The International Groups that have so far spoken out against the ZimRights targeting include Amnesty International, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, Zimbabwe Europe Network, Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, Action Support Centre, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) of the UK, Afrika Kontakt of Denmark, CCFD of France and Ecumenical Service on Southern Africa (KASA) of Germany.
Machisa and Chamahwinya were not the only ones complaining of hurting limbs at the prison, as the Prison Guards were also heard saying:
“Our hands are now painful from writing Machisa, Machisa, Chamahwinya, Chamahwinya”.
The UN also condemned the attacks on human rights defenders.
“We condemn recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment.”
“We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe’s rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which are expected to take place later this year.”