Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) director Okay Machisa, who was arrested Monday, was formally charged in Rottenrow Magistrates Court in Harare on Tuesday for publishing false and misleading information related to the country’s voter’s roll.
The state alleges that the ZimRights director forged and conspired to commit fraud as the organization tried to assist people to register as voters.
Machisa was arrested after voluntarily going in for questioning and kept at Rhodesville Police Station.
Attorney Beatrice Mtetwa argued in court that her client should have not been placed on remand after the prosecution’s request for remand charged ZimRights in its legal persona rather than Machisa himself.
Mtetwa said his presence in court was improper. The prosecution argued that Machisa had been on the run, after his fellow employees were arrested and faced similar charges.
ZimRights employees Dorcas Shereni, Leo Chamahwina, Farai Bhani and Tatenda Chinaka, were also arrested and accused of conniving to discredit the state by producing a fogged voters’ register. They remain in custody after being denied bail.
The four have been denied bail by a magistrate and a High Court judge who argue that their crime is so serious that they may flee if released.
Machisa is due in court on Thursday to make his plea.
In a statement, the Robert F. Kennedy Center (RFK) for Justice and Human Rights denounced the arrest of Machisa and other civil society activists ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2013 election.
It said political violence, human rights abuses, and intimidation against civil society activists are nothing new in the lead up to the nation’s general elections.
“During the nation’s previous election cycle in 2008, when President Robert Mugabe’s hold on the presidency was threatened by voters, more than 300 members from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were reportedly killed, and countless more civic activists were abducted and tortured by the police, security forces and associated militias.
“With elections once again on the horizon, it is of paramount importance for the Zimbabwean government to cultivate an environment that is conducive to peace, social cohesion, and free and fair polls,” said the center.
Nearly a dozen organizations including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit and the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests and physical abuse at the hands of police"
Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center, is quoted in the statement as saying “the increasingly brazen steps that Zimbabwean authorities have taken to block civic activism are an unsettling reminder of the violence and intimidation that has marred past elections.”
“In December, President Mugabe resolved to deregister so-called ‘errant’ civic groups that ‘deviate from their mandate’ during his annual political party conference in December. The international community, and in particular, leaders from the Southern African Development Community, must urge the government of Zimbabwe to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against civil society organizations and human rights activists.”
Since August last year, nearly a dozen organizations including Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Counseling Services Unit, and the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe have experienced harassment in the form of office raids, multiple arrests, and physical abuse at the hands of police.