July Elections Ghost Haunts Human Rights Defenders

Harare, October 28, 2013 –  The ghost of the July 31 harmonised elections is still haunting human rights defenders in Zimbabwe with a local elections monitoring body taking legal action to have its matter referred to the Constitutional Court challenging some provisions of the Electoral Act which criminalises freedom of expression.

The Election Resource Centre through its lawyer, Trust Maanda on Monday filed an application before Harare Magistrate Tendai Mahwe seeking to declare as unconstitutional Section 40 of the Electoral Act for being in breach of Section 61, 62, 64 and 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The ERC represented by the organisation’s director Tawanda Chimhini also wants the Constitutional Court to declare Section 40 of the Electoral Act as void for being overbroad, vague and imprecise.

The ERC wants trial proceedings to be stayed pending the determination by the Constitutional Court of the above mentioned questions.

Harare Magistrate Tendai Mahwe will on Friday 1 November 2013 deliver his ruling on the application in which the ERC charges that its fundamental rights are being breached.

Chimhini was arrested together with Farai Saungweme, Wadzanai Previous Nyakudya and Moses Chikora and charged with contravening Section 40 (c) (1) (g) of the Electoral Act ahead of the July 31 harmonised elections for allegedly conducting voter education without the approval of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Meanwhile, the trial of Abel Chikomo, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation suffered yet another false start on Monday after Magistrate Mahwe postponed the case to November 13, 2013.

Chikomo, whose trial had been rescheduled to commence on Monday could not start as Magistrate Mahwe indicated that he wanted to dispense with several cases lined up in his court before presiding over the human rights campaigner’s case. This if the fifth time that Chikomo’s trial has had to be postponed.

Prosecutors charge that Chikomo contravened Section 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act Chapter 17:15 after he allegedly conducted some activities without being registered with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act. The charge, which Chikomo denies, came after the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a non-governmental umbrella organisation conducted a survey on transitional justice in Harare’s Highfield suburb.

The State says this was illegal since the organisation is not registered as a PVO. The State claims that he unlawfully instructed two of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s employees to commence or carry out a survey in Harare’s Highfield suburb with the intention to obtain people’s recommendations on the preferred transitional justice mechanism for Zimbabwe, without his organization registering with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.

Last year, Chikomo’s trial on the same charges, which first arose in February 2011, was shelved after State prosecutor Innocent Chingarande withdrew summons issued against him as the State was not ready to proceed with the matter.

 

Human rights lawyers say the judicial persecution of Chikomo, who is represented by Selby Hwacha of Dube Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners is yet another official harassment of civic organisations and human rights defenders operating in Zimbabwe.