Opposition groups in Zimbabwe are suffering harassment, intimidation and discrimination in the run-up to national elections on 29 March.
Police in some parts of the country are clearly restricting the activities of opposition party members, while supporters of the ruling party enjoy total rights. Amnesty International has warned that the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly are being unnecessarily restricted in advance of the poll date.
“Although opposition parties appear to be enjoying a greater degree of access to previously ‘no go areas’ in rural areas compared with previous elections, we continue to receive reports of intimidation, harassment and violence against perceived supporters of opposition candidates – with many in rural regions fearful that there will be retribution after the elections,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s Zimbabwe researcher.
Three members of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were ordered to pull down election posters by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) on 7 March. The CIO operatives forced one member of the group to chew the posters and swallow them. A female member of the group was then forced to chew and swallow three-quarters of a poster.
Activists have also suffered harassment in the run-up to the vote. Eight members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were briefly held by police for putting up posters encouraging people to vote. Dr. Simba Makoni, an independent presidential candidate, had to intervene when five people operating a public address system at one of his rallies were detained.
Food is still being used as a political tool by the ruling party in many rural areas, with perceived opposition supporters denied access to cheap maize. Last month, an MDC councillor in Lupane district was prevented from collecting 235 bags of maize that had been bought by his community from the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB). A senior ruling party official was reported to have claimed that “GMB maize is not supposed to be distributed to MDC supporters.”
Amnesty International has urged Zimbabwean police to respect the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly of all candidates and civil society organisations.
“The police should ensure that all Zimbabweans are allowed to engage in peaceful protest before and during the elections, and must desist from using excessive force, torture or other inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Mawanza.
Amnesty International is also concerned at recent statements by leading security figures that they would not recognise an opposition candidate winning the election.
“Security chiefs should operate in a non-partisan manner and protect the rights of all citizens,” said Mawanza. “The conduct of the state security organisations — irrespective of the outcome of the election — will be crucial in safeguarding the rights of all Zimbabweans in the post-election period.”