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SALC calls on Zimbabwe to respect political rights following arrest of human rights lawyer and parliamentary candidate Arnold Tsunga

Johannesburg: The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) condemns the arrest of MDC parliamentary candidate Arnold Tsunga and 50 supporters on 20 July 2013, and the banning of a political rally in Harare.

The disruption and denial by Zimbabwean police of peaceful political gatherings; the arbitrary arrest of electoral candidates; and the intimidation of Zimbabwean citizens violates the rights of freedom of association, assembly and expression of Zimbabweans, members of the political opposition and human rights defenders.

Section 67 of the Zimbabwean Constitution explicitly provides for every Zimbabwean citizen to participate in the activities of a political party of their choice; “to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party”; “to participate in peaceful political activity”; and “to participate, individually or collectively … in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the Government”.

The uneven application of Zimbabwe’s security laws requiring that political gatherings or marches be sanctioned by the police is tantamount to interference in the electoral process. SALC therefore calls on the authorities responsible for the oversight of activities during the election period to ensure that the law is not manipulated, abused or applied in manner that offends the Zimbabwean Constitution.

Nicole Fritz, Director of SALC, said “In the build-up to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections, Zimbabwe must commit itself to the creation and maintenance of an environment conducive to political freedom; one in which no political party, electoral candidate or individual is prevented from campaigning on the basis of political opinion or affiliation. All voices are protected and must be allowed to be heard.”

Failure to ensure that basic safeguards to protect fundamental rights are in place threatens the credibility of the upcoming elections and brings into question Zanu-PF’s commitment to free and fair elections. “It is imperative that the Government take steps to assuage voters’ fears of violence and intimidation, in order for Zimbabwe’s election to be legitimate” said Fritz.

In light of the above, SALC calls on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Electoral Observers deployed by the Southern African Development Community and African Union to investigate and address the recent incarceration of Mr Tsunga and the cancelling of the political rally in Harare, and to ensure that the rights of all stakeholders are respected and protected during this important time.

Issued by: The Southern Africa Litigation Centre

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