Under Siege: Zimbabwe's Human Rights Activists
Map of Zimbabwe. (Source: C.I.A. World Factbook)
In December, Raymond Majongwe became the third critic of Zimbabwean President Robert G. Mugabe's government to be placed under virtual country arrest when security agents seized his passport.
Earlier that same month, authorities had seized the passports of two other government critics: newspaper owner, Trevor Ncube; and Movement for Democratic Change official, Paul Themba Nyathi.
Majongwe, who is secretary general of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (P.T.U.Z.) and a general council member of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (Z.C.T.U.), was returning from an International Labor Organization workshop on H.I.V. and AIDS in Nigeria when immigration officials at the Harare International Airport approached him and told him they were withdrawing his passport.
He says that although no explanation was given for withdrawing the passport, the move did not surprise him: "It did not surprise me because this regime is determined to thwart all dissenting voices."
Majongwe has first hand experience of how the government of President Mugabe deals with its critics.
In October 2002 he was arrested twice following a national teachers strike launched by the P.T.U.Z. He was first arrested on Oct. 9 and charged under Section 17 of the Public Order and Security Act (P.O.S.A.) for allegedly disrupting classes and threatening teachers.
The Public Order and Security Act was enacted in January 2002 and it imposes severe restrictions on civil liberties and criminalizes a wide range of activities associated with freedom of assembly, movement, expression and association. The Act makes it an offence punishable with imprisonment or a fine for "any person who, acting in concert with one or more other persons, forcibly disturbs the peace, security or order of the public or invades the rights of other people."
The Act violates Zimbabwe's obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Following his 2002 arrest, Majongwe was held in police custody for 48 hours, during which time he was badly assaulted by police officers, sustaining injuries to one of his eyes, both his arms and several ribs. He did not receive medical treatment until his release on Oct. 11.
On Oct. 16 he was re-arrested for allegedly disrupting activities at Harare schools by purportedly trying to force teachers into joining the strike. He was taken to Harare Central police station and later transferred to Chitungwiza police station. From there he was driven to a place outside town, where he was blindfolded and tortured. Electric shocks were applied to his genitals and mouth. Police officers ordered him to call off the strike, to disband the P.T.U.Z. and not to make any statements to the press.
He was released on Oct. 21, after the court found that the state had failed to make its case against him.
Now, three years later, and following another amendment of the country's constitution, which provided for the withdrawal of travel documents from all Zimbabweans who are perceived to be enemies of the state, authorities seized Raymond Majongwe's passport.
Z.C.T.U. information officer, Mlamleli Sibanda says the amendment to the constitution is a retributive counter-action by the government after the entire ruling Zanu-PF leadership and government ministers were slapped with travel sanctions by the international community.
"It is a mischievous act of flagrant disregard of the freedom of association and movement. Rights which the government of Zimbabwe ratified under Convention 87 [Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize] of the International Labor Organization," Sibanda says.
While the passports of Trevor Ncube and Paul Themba Nyathi were returned within weeks, it would be a month before Raymond Majongwe's passport was returned.
Arnold Tsunga, director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, in an interview with SW Radio Africa (Jan. 18) says Majongwe's passport was returned after a letter of demand was sent to the police. The letter stated that the seizure was unlawful and that the police had no legal basis for holding onto Majongwe's passport.
He describes the return of Majongwe's passport as a small victory, which has no political significance in that the government of President Mugabe will comply with the rule of law where there is no threat to the balance of political mapping in the country.
Tsunga warns that once the Zimbabwean government has sorted out the regulatory framework, which is the precondition for the amendment to work, it will be no surprise to see it "begin to selectively target individuals, especially human rights defenders; who are seen as an impact in terms of the world knowing what is happening in the country and in terms of influencing the grassroots movement."
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