With days to go to much-anticipated presidential and general elections in Zimbabwe, Amnesty International warned on Wednesday that freedom of expression, association and assembly have been restricted ahead of Saturday’s ballots.
The human rights group said that while opposition parties have had better access to rural areas dominated by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front of President Robert Mugabe, intimidation, harassment and violence against opposition candidates and supporters have marred the accelerated campaign.
The group said that although the repressive Public Order and Security Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act on media were amended in January under South-African-mediated crisis negotiations between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, rights violations have been common.
Amnesty noted that opposition parties and candidates as well as civil society activities are still poorly covered by Zimbabwean state-controlled radio and television.
It urged Zimbabwean security forces to respect freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly of all candidates and civil society organizations working legitimately during and after the election period.
Amnesty International Zimbabwe Researcher Simeon Mawanza told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that opposition supporters have faced discrimination in the distribution of food by the state Grain Marketing Board.
The U.S. Department of State said Tuesday that it is “concerned that actions of the Zimbabwean government will preclude free and fair elections.”
It cited independent reports of pre-election irregularities such as inaccurate voter rolls, political violence and intimidation, alleged printing of large numbers of extra ballots, media bias, and the proposed presence of police officers in polling stations.
Washington called on Harare and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to take action to address what it called “significant shortcomings” and encouraged Zimbabweans to “exercise their democratic right to vote in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku was briefly detained in Harare on Wednesday, 24 hours after issuing a statement calling on security forces to disobey their commanders and remain neutral in the electoral process.
Madhuku told reporter Blessing Zulu he was detained by police officers who accused him of blocking Mr. Mugabe’s motorcade, calling the incident politically motivated.
Police meanwhile brought charges of fraud and overstaying in the country against a South African helicopter pilot detained on Tuesday as he prepared to fly opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai to rallies around the country.
An attorney for pilot Brent Smythe of Aviation Towards Success of Midrand, South Africa, said the fraud charges arose from allegations Smythe paid for his hotel room in local currency after identifying himself as a Zimbabwean citizen.
Lawyer Innocent Chagonda told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that his client will plead innocent when he is arraigned in court on Thursday.