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NGOs Threaten to Pull Out of Zimbabwe Referendum

Non-governmental organizations accredited to observe the referendum say they may not participate after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on Wednesday declined to reverse its ban against some local organizations, including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights).

In a letter to the government principals, the organizations wrote that they would urge their members to withdraw from the national event, arguing that ZEC acted outside the purview of its constitutional authority “in presuming to assign guilt to parties who have not been pronounced guilty in competent courts of law and who should, for all intents and purposes, be presumed innocent, until proven otherwise.”

The letter said the groups were disturbed by the ZEC’s actions, and though it respects the commission’s independence to carry its mandate, which they believe goes against the innocence of those charged under law.

The commission said it is barring ZimRights from observation the constitutional referendum pending the outcome of election-related fraud charges.

ZimRights officials are accused of illegal possession of voter registration forms, among other claims.

Lawyers for ZimRights are expected to approach the High Court on Thursday to challenge ZEC’s decision.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika, who spoke on behalf of the CSO coalition, told VOA that groups must not be denied observer status simply because they are accused of wrongdoing.

He said they are urging accredited groups like his, the Crisis Coalition, to follow and boycott the event if the ZEC refused to reverse its ban.
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The groups had given the commission until the end of business Wednesday to reverse the decision. The crisis group is expected to meet Thursday morning to map the way forward.

Meanwhile, a High Court judge Wednesday removed the bail conditions from Zimbabwe Human Rights Association director Okay Machisa.

Police allege that Mr. Machisa fraudulently registered voters. Previously set bail conditions ordered Machisa to pay a $500 bond, remain at home, and report to the police every week.

The removal of the conditions by the court means that the police must now summon Mr. Machisa if they need to speak with him.