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Zimbabwe: Pillay concerned about civil society crackdown after mass arrest

GENEVA (1 March 2011) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed deep concern Tuesday about the continuing illegal detention and reported ill-treatment of 45 members of civil society in Zimbabwe, who have allegedly been charged with treason for discussing events in Egypt and Tunisia. She also called for their speedy release.

“As many people in North Africa have been pointing out increasingly loudly and clearly, there is no true democracy without freedom of expression and assembly,” Pillay said. “It is therefore both deeply ironic and disturbing that, in Zimbabwe, activists are being arrested and mistreated simply for discussing North Africans’ efforts to bring about change through largely peaceful protests.”

On 19 February, police arrested the coordinator of the International Socialist Organisation and 44 other social justice and human rights activists who were attending a roundtable focused on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia. The activists have reportedly been charged with treason under the Criminal Law Act of Zimbabwe, and several of them claim to have been beaten since being taken into detention.

“These arrests appear to be part of a growing crackdown on civil society and members of the political opposition, and are a clear sign that the establishment of a consolidated democracy in Zimbabwe is still very far from assured,” Pillay said. “All those who are being illegally held in detention should be released without delay. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are rights guaranteed under Zimbabwean and international law.”

The High Commissioner noted that respect for diversity of political opinion is described as ‘the bedrock of democracy and good governance’ in the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), which was the document that established the framework for the current Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe.

Continuing to refer to the text of the GPA, she called on the Government of Zimbabwe “to fulfil its promise to ‘put an end to the polarization, divisions, conflict and intolerance’ that have caused so much damage to the fundamental fabric of what could and should be a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation.”

“I see these unwarranted arrests as a serious step backwards, especially with elections possibly taking place later this year,” she said. “The Government needs to take measures, beginning with the release of these activists, to restore some faith in the country’s political processes.”

ENDS