A CIVIL society grouping, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, has demanded that the government drop charges against arrested local election observers from the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) to demonstrate respect for fundamental rights.
The demands are coming amid reports of continued threats and harassment of election observers and agents.
On election day, armed police raided ERC and Zesn data centres in Harare where the organisations were carrying out parallel vote tabulation, arresting 39 civil society officials and volunteers, confiscating their equipment such as phones and laptops.
The arrests resulted in observers from both organisations failing to inspect the just-ended election, which was marred by serious logistical irregularities which saw voters at some polling stations casting their ballot at night.
While the observers are now out after being granted US$200 bail each by magistrate Ngoni Nduna on 25 August, civil society has flagged the arrests as a dent on electoral transparency.
This week, the NGO Forum, a consortium of 21 civil society organisations, said the government should drop all charges against the observers.
“The Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum stands in solidarity with its fellow civil society organisations, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Elections Resource Centre following the arbitrary arrests of 39 Zesn and ERC staff and volunteers who were arrested while conducting their lawful, non-partisan election observation work,” reads the statement.
“The Forum calls upon the government of Zimbabwe at this critical stage in the country’s political landscape to: (1) immediately act to reaffirm its commitment to upholding and defending fundamental human rights and freedoms by abiding by the Revised Sadc Principles and Guidelines for Democratic Elections which mandate member states to exercise political tolerance.
“(2) Ensure full participation of the citizens in the political process, as well as respect, protect and fulfill the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association of civic society organisations and citizens collectively.”
The NGO Forum said the brutality used during the raid was likely to affect future operations by the affected organisations, hence the need for the government to condemn the Zimbabwe Republic Police for its conduct during the raid.
“We however remain disheartened by the disturbing details that emerged from submissions made by their legal counsel pertaining to the nature in which their arrests were effected including how the group was made to lie down for three consecutive hours by AK-47 rifle wielding police officers,” reads the statement.
“The terror they must have endured throughout the ordeal, with the youngest victim being 19 is unimaginable. The Forum therefore hopes that their incarceration will not deter our peer organisations from continuing their work and efforts towards supporting democratic electoral processes and contributing to transparency around critical phases of the election through independent verification of election results, a practice that is observed globally.”
The NGO Forum has also been receiving more reports of intimidation in the post-election period, amid indications that some polling agents and observers are being targeted for their work in the just-ended election.
“Linked with electoral processes, the Forum and some of its member organisations have received distress calls from presiding officers, polling agents and some observers who are being targeted for their work that they did in the just-ended harmonised elections,” reads the statement.
“While we note that Zec has issued a statement refuting allegations of recalling polling officers and observers or victimising them due to their work, we note that if the allegations are true, then whoever is recalling these presiding officers, polling agents and some observers can only be someone with a sinister motive.”
The ERC over the weekend said it has received numerous reports from Karoi, Kariba and Makoni, of polling agents being summoned back to polling locations to sign new V11 forms, raising an outcry.