RFK Center Denounces Arrest of ZimRights Director

Washington, D.C.January 16, 2013 – The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) has denounced the arrest of Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and the most recent target in a series of arrests against Zimbabwean civil society activists in the lead up to the nation’s 2013 election.

Machisa, due in court Wednesday afternoon, was arrested Monday on on the grounds of conspiring to “commit voter registration fraud and publishing or communicating falsehoods”.

“The increasingly brazen steps that Zimbabwean authorities have taken to block civic activism are an unsettling reminder of the violence and intimidation that has marred past elections,” said Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center.

“In December, President Mugabe resolved to deregister so-called ‘errant’ civic groups that ‘deviate from their mandate’ during his annual political party conference in December. The international community, and in particular, leaders from the Southern African Development Community, must urge the government of Zimbabwe to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against civil society organisations and human rights activists.”

Since August of last year, nearly a dozen organisations—including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit, and the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe—have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests, and physical abuse at the hands of police.

The centre noted in a statement that Machisa’s arrest,  occurred just one month after the arrest of his deputy at ZimRights, Leo Chamahwinya.

Political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to Zimbabwean elections.

During the nation’s previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe’s hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the police, security forces, and associated militias.

“With elections once again on the horizon, it is of paramount importance for the Zimbabwean government to cultivate an environment that is conducive to peace, social cohesion, and free and fair polls,” noted the centre.