JOHANNESBURG – The raid by Zimbabwean police on a civil society group has raised fears of a broader crackdown on perceived opposition activists ahead of elections due in 2013, Human Rights Watch has said.
Report by AlertNet
Last week a dozen uniformed and plain-clothes police officers with a search warrant raided the Harare office of the Counseling Services Unit (CSU), which provides medical and psychological care for victims of political violence and torture.
Before they entered, armed riot police surrounded the office and threatened to fire teargas into the building, which contained other tenants.
The police arrested five of the group’s employees and confiscated confidential medical records, including by removing a computer.
“The police raid on a torture victims’ centre sends a chilling message to Zimbabwean civil society ahead of next year’s elections,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“If a medical group is at risk, then everyone is.”
Patients at the office at the time were unable to receive treatment.
The warrant produced by the police indicated a search for material that “defaces any house, building, wall, fence, lamppost, gate, elevator without the consent of the owner or occupier thereof”, in violation of Section 46 of the Criminal Code.
Two of the arrested employees, James Zidzimu and Penn Bruno, were taken to Harare Central Police Station and soon released.
On Wednesday, the remaining three, Fidelis Mudimu, Zachariah Godi, and Tafadzwa Gesa, were transferred to Bulawayo Police Station and the following day charged.
A magistrate granted them $100 bail each and ordered them to surrender their passports and to report once a week at Harare Central Police Station.
State security forces aligned with the former ruling party Zanu PF have conducted many raids in the past year against nongovernmental organisations, including CSU, the counselling service.