Harare – Zimbabwe police have raided the offices of a leading election monitoring group in the latest of what activists fear is a deliberate move by authorities to harass them ahead of a referendum on the constitution.
Police forcibly entered the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) by breaking part of the perimeter wall and confiscated documents, a human rights lawyer said yesterday.
No arrests were made.
“They had a search warrant to search for subversive material, documents, gadgets, recordings and to look for illegal immigrants,” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda told AFP.
Police have in recent weeks targeted non-governmental organisations as the country readies for a crucial constitutional referendum on March 16.
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy group opposed to the draft constitution yesterday filed for an urgent court order to defer the referendum to allow for more time to study the text.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) argued that the general public were not involved in the drafting of the law, while their contributions were not captured in the text.
“It is unfair that they should be given just about a month to make up their minds,” the NCA said in the court documents.
“It is therefore necessary that the people be given an adequate opportunity to scrutinise the constitution in order to make informed choices.”
A new constitution is a key reform for new elections to choose a successor to an uneasy powersharing government formed nearly four years ago by long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister.
Elections are due in July.
ZESN, a household name in Zimbabwean election monitoring, has also been targeted in past elections. It has previously exposed the shambolic state of electoral rolls which they claimed were stuffed with the names of people who were long dead and children below voting age.
A week ago, detectives ransacked the offices of a civic group called the Zimbabwe Peace Project and seized documents and CDs.
At the weekend police also detained three rights activists in the farming town of Chegutu, west of the capital, on charges of holding an unsanctioned meeting to discuss the constitution.
The new charter is designed to pave the way for new elections in July, which are set to end the power-sharing government between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.
With the referendum just weeks away, political tensions are building up and activists increasingly targeted.
Activist group the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said the raids appear “to be a calculated state sponsored move to inculcate fear in CSOs doing election related” work.
Authorities have in the past threatened to revoke licences for groups deemed to be opposed to Mugabe’s policies.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party has urged the police to stop harassing rights activists and party supporters.