On 20 May 2019, five Civil Society Organization’s actors were arrested at the Robert Mugabe International Airport on their arrival from an international workshop on Non-Violent and Peace – building for Civic Engagement in Maldives. Again, on 27 May 2019, two more civil society actors were arrested on the same charge sheet as the first five human rights defenders. Civic engagement is a process of helping people to be active participants in building and strengthening their respective communities. By arresting the seven civil society organization’s actors whose work has been done through legal entities like CCDZ, TIZ, COTRAD, CITIZENS MANIFESTO and ROSARIO MEMORIAL TRUST, it is ample proof that the ZANU PF government thrive on passive citizenry.
The arrested human rights defenders are Farirai Gumbodzvanda, Tatenda Mombeyarara, George Makoni, Gamuchirai Mukura, Frank Mphalo, Rita Nyampinga and Sithabile Dewa. These seven CSO actors’ strongest weapon against the flawed criminal justice system is morale engendered by association and common solidarity from fellow CSO actors. When they received visitors from CSO colleagues they expressed that the care and concern from fellow colleagues keeps them much stronger and are endowed with much hope that soon they will be freed from the clutches of political persecution.
The work of these civil society organizations is in support of community development and social cohesion, but the government is responding to these noble efforts with blunt force. The infamous section 22 (2)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification & Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 as directed through the law and Order department of the Zimbabwe Repubic Police is perhaps the most detested political weapon that the government actives to suppress and attack the work of civil society organizations.
The arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have resurfaced and there is little doubt that civil society organizations actors constitute the greater number.
The seven civil society actors were arrested on vague allegations of subverting a constitutional government. It is not clear that they were participants of an event that would lead to the overthrow of the government. In the case, the government went on to allege that the arrested human rights defenders possess weapons and intent to use violence.
From the moment they first come into contact with the country’s criminal justice system, the human rights defenders faced great vulnerabilities. The police confiscated their personal computers and cellphones which they deem as containing subversive materials without a search warrant. This is a clear violation of pre – trial justice.
The police went further in taking Gamuchirai Mukura to Masvingo with the intention to carry out a search at his home as well as COTRAD offices. This is totally an abusive and coercive interrogation practices.
Striving for community development and social cohesion is a clear sign that CSO contribute to the well – being of their community. Thus, being patriotic calls for greater commitment and dedication to the process of building productive communities. However, the government has systematically criminalized the work that endeavor to positively impact on the wider society. It is within this context that all progressive and patriotic forces call for the release of the arrested human rights defenders.