A CIVIL society organisation, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ), has expressed concern over the persecution of dissenters through the resuscitation of court cases against political activists, human rights defenders and critical voices, saying this shows President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s fear of elections.
In June last year, 15 CCC activists were arrested together with Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala on charges of fomenting unrest following the murder of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali.
Sikhala has spent over 300 days in prison and was this week slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence or a US$600 fine on fresh charges of obstructing justice in Ali’s murder case.
This week, the state postponed the trial of 15 which was supposed to kickstart on Thursday until 5 June.
This was after the state once again applied for postponement, saying they intend to call over 60 witnesses to testify against the 15, hence require more time to prepare.
The accused persons are being represented by lawyers from the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
They have been denying any wrongdoing.
The Nyatsime 15 were released from police custody in November last year, after a visit by a Commonwealth delegation led by assistant secretary-general Professor Luis Franceschi from 12 to 18 November to assess if the country is ready to rejoin the club.
Before the visit, Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Godfrey Sithole, also arrested together with Sikhala and the 15, was granted ZW$300 000 bail by Harare magistrate Marevanazvo Gofa after spending 150 days in prison.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Obert Masaraure (pictured) said the resuscitation of cases against opposition activists and human rights defenders shows that Mnangagwa is afraid of the upcoming elections.
“Emmerson Mnangagwa is clearly scared of the next election. He has lost support from the few people who voted for him in the 2018 elections, and there seems to be factionalism in the state’s institutions,” Masaraure said in an interview with The NewsHawks.
“So, he is now trying to use the judiciary to persecute all perceived enemies. He is trying to silence all dissenting voices using the judiciary. What this means is that the next election is not going to be free and fair. In addition to the capture of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the judiciary is now also being used to suffocate the voices of the opposition.
“At the end of the day, they would like to have a one-man race. It is now up to the citizens of Zimbabwe to say, do they want to allow Mnangagwa to cheat his way back into office, or they are going to resist capture of the judiciary, or they are going to resist capture of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) itself?”
Masaraure said the targeting of political activists is worrisome as it may lead to the physical targeting of the rest of political activists in Zimbabwe ahead of the elections, hence the need for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to intervene.
“We are also looking at the possibility of violence coming through. If Emmerson fails to silence people through the judiciary, we are so sure that the next thing they will be deploying is the apparatus of violence to kill and maim people, in a desperate bid to silence dissenting voices.
“We are now calling upon Sadc to come in before the situation degenerates to the 2008 level. To help us mediate the crisis, so that we have a free and fair election, to talk to Emmerson Mnangagwa so that he respects the constitution. To make sure he respects the Sadc guidelines for holding free and fair elections.
“If Sadc doesn’t come in, we might be heading towards a 2008 crisis,” Masaraure said.
Other organisations have been condemning the targeting of political activists by the state ahead of the elections.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), an organisation that protects and defends human rights through sustainable litigation, last month raised concern over the continued prosecution of perceived opponents of President Mnangagwa ahead of the general elections.
ZLHR said the trend is likely to continue due to shrinking democratic space.
This came after the government resuscitated the prosecution of human rights activist Rashid Mahiya on charges of attempting to overthrow the Mnangagwa government, four years after he was initially accused.
Mahiya, who is executive director of Heal Zimbabwe, a civil society organisation, was arrested in 2019 alongside several pro-democracy campaigners, trade unionists, civil society and opposition legislators after countrywide demonstrations against fuel price hikes.
The state has resuscitated his case, accusing him of unlawfully convening a meeting at Wild Geese Conference Centre in Harare’s Pomona suburb between 3 December and 6 December 2018.
The National Prosecuting Authority claims the meeting was aimed at toppling Mnangagwa.