Zimbabwe Police Must Release Illegally Detained Human Rights Defenders

Press Release
November 8, 2012

Zimbabwe Police Must Release Illegally Detained Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Group Fears Three Activists May Be At Risk of Torture After Arbitrary Arrest

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International today demanded that Zimbabwe’s police immediately and unconditionally release three human rights defenders illegally detained for legitimate work assisting victims of torture.

Fidelis Mudimu, Zachariah Godi and Tafadzwa Geza, senior staff members of the Counseling Services Unit (CSU), a registered medical clinic that provides medical and counseling services to victims of organized violence and torture, were arbitrarily arrested after police raided their offices in Harare on Monday. They have since been illegally transferred more than 240 miles to Bulawayo.

Under Zimbabwean law, detainees must be brought before a magistrate and formally charged within 48 hours or released.

“Amnesty International regards all three of these men as prisoners of conscience, arrested solely for their legitimate work assisting victims of torture,” said Noel Kututwa, director for southern Africa at Amnesty International.

“This flagrant bullying and intimidation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe must end.”

Amnesty International believes that the unlawful detention of the three men is part of a pattern of systematic harassment and intimidation of civil society by the government as it attempts to stifle dissent ahead of elections in 2013.

This is the second raid on the office of an NGO in Harare in less than three months. In August, the office of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) was raided by police twice, and members were arrested and detained.

“We fear that these men, who are highly respected for their work with survivors of human rights abuses, may themselves become victims of torture,” said Kututwa.

On Monday morning, about a dozen police officers arrived at the CSU without a search warrant. Around two hours later, they were joined by a truck load of anti-riot police who threatened to fire tear gas into the clinic when staff and patients refused them entry.

The police eventually produced a search warrant stating they were there to recover “offensive and subversive material.” During the search they seized confidential medical records, a computer and documents not covered by the search warrant, and arrested the three men.

On Wednesday afternoon, around the time they should have been charged or released under Zimbabwean law, the men were transferred 248 miles to Bulawayo after having been reportedly told that they were wanted by police there on charges relating to the search warrant. The CSU have no offices or premises in Bulawayo.

"The illegal transfer was made by bundling these men into an open pickup truck without protection from the sun, in spite of the long journey in temperatures exceeding 86 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Kututwa.

“The Zimbabwe police have once again demonstrated a modus operandi that falls far short of acceptable standards for police conduct and shows no regard whatsoever for the welfare of those in their custody.”

“This situation is indicative of the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) failure to enforce reform of the security services in Zimbabwe as agreed in the Global Political Agreement. SADC must urgently act to stop this ongoing harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations in Zimbabwe.”

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.