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Zimbabwe Police Raid ZimRights Office

Detectives raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) Thursday and arrested one of its employees.

Police said they were investigating an alleged fake voter registration exercise carried out by ZimRights.

Plain-clothes police stormed the ZimRights headquarters in Harare’s Avenues area, alleging that ZimRights were carrying out the exercise ahead of elections expected next year.

A ZimRights employee, who requested anonymity, said officers searched all their offices along Fourth Street.

This employee said the detectives were looking for voter registration material after police received a report that ZimRights was being accused by a person or persons within the organization of rewarding staff for registering to vote and providing voter registration certificates to them when the workers did not register to vote.

The ZimRights employee said despite the police claim, ZimRights had not complained to the police.

During the raid, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights dispatched attorneys to the ZimRights offices. In the end, police arrested the organization’s programs officer, Leo Chamahwinya, who is now being held at Harare Central police station.

One of Chamahwinya’s lawyers, Trust Maanda, told VOA Studio 7 that the police had not yet formally charged his client.

Studio 7 failed to obtain comment from ZimRights director, Okay Machisa, who reportedly left the country Thursday to attend a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland.

Police spokesperson for Harare province, Charity Chibanda, refused to give any details saying the police investigation is still in its infancy.

However, other police sources said the raid was linked to the uncovering of an unclear document scam that led to the arrest of four people last week.

In a statement, the RFK Center said his arrest follows at least two other recent instances in which ZimRights officials were detained by local authorities on dubious grounds.

The RFK Center noted that a growing chorus of activists across Zimbabwe asserts that the raid on the ZimRights office is part of a massive crackdown on the NGO community, one that is expected to intensify as the country moves toward a constitutional referendum and a national election in 2013.

It quoted Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center, as saying: “The rights to civic participation, assembly, association, and freedom of expression are fundamental for any democratic society.

"The protection of these rights is vital in a country like Zimbabwe, which is currently undergoing a profound democratic exercise that includes an upcoming referendum and plans for a watershed election. Political leaders should act immediately to cease the undue harassment of NGOs and civic actors throughout the country.”

The RFK Center recently expressed concern over what it said is a troubling increase of intimidation and harassment of civil society organizations over the past several months.