from DANAI MWARUMBWA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE – ZIMBABWE’S police, accused by government critics of repression, believe they have smashed a syndicate making the most of modern technology to unlawfully declare results of the presidential elections.
However, in a country where the state and civil society are polarised, human rights groups argue this is the latest in a crackdown by law enforcement to curtail the freedoms of activists.
Around 40 staff members of the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) were arbitrarily arrested on Wednesday and were in detention at the time of going to press, their prospects of release are slim.
Police announced on Thrusday evening that among those arrested were members of the pressure group, Team Pachedu.
All suspects were arrested at a hotel in the capital Harare.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is disturbed by the subversive and criminal activities by certain individuals and civic society organizations such as Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and Team PAchedu, in relation to ongoing electoral processes in the country,” police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said in a statement.
As a result, a total of 93 smartphones, 38 laptops, two smartwatches, two modems, one WiFi router, one external hard drive, Nokia feature phone, one printer, 1X24 port switch, various computer chargers, power backup unit, and headphones were recovered, Commissioner Nyathi revealed.
“The equipment was being used to unlawfully tabulate election voting statistics and results from polling stations throughout the country. These figures were being supplied by some observers and political party agents.” ZRP revealed.
Police alleged the results were to be announced on Thursday as promised by main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader, Nelson Chamisa, who is the main rival of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU-PF’s) Emmerson Mnangagwa, the presidential incumbent, who is seeking second term.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, however believes this clampdown is part of a move by the government to target civil society. Amnesty also lamented internet disruptions.
It said the arbitrary detentions came after the Zimbabwe NGO Forum released a report detailing irregularities that they observed on election day.
Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said all members of civil society organizations (CSOs) should be immediately and unconditionally released, and all technological property confiscated by the police should be immediately returned.
“CSO staff members should never have to face intimidation and harassment simply for doing their work,” Farise said.
Relations between government and civil society are strained after successive Zimbabwe administrations accused them of being agents of the west and supporting the opposition.
– CAJ News