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Statement: SALC condemns the arrest and ongoing detention of four human rights defenders in Zimbabwe

SALC condemns the arrests of Tatenda Mombeyara, Gamuchirai Mukura, George Makoni and Nyasha Mpahlo by Zimbabwean authorities on Monday, 20 May 2019. The four NGO leaders were abducted by the police from Robert Mugabe International Airport upon their return to Zimbabwe from the Maldives. The four were detained for several hours without any release of information about their whereabouts, and without access to their lawyers. They had their laptops and cell phones seized and searched. Following their arrest at the airport, the four activists were relocated to Harare Central Police Station.

The arrests followed false stories printed in The Herald and the Chronicle newspapers which outlined a plot by several Zimbabweans to force a violent regime change. The story alleged that Zimbabweans were taking part in a training in Prague to learn how to rile up violent protests to undemocratically overthrow the government. There is no evidence that these NGO leaders are involved in any such plot.

The four human rights defenders were taken to Rotten Row Magistrates Court on Wednesday, 22 May and again on Thursday, 23 May. They were charged with ‘subverting a constitutionally elected government’. They are being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

SALC calls for the immediate release of the four human rights defenders and for the charges against them to be dropped. SALC wishes to reaffirm the Contonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa which calls on states to, “[a]dopt effective measures to prevent violations of the rights of HRDs and, where necessary, address the harm suffered by the activists and refrain from criminalizing or taking other adverse actions against these rights defenders, including reprisals and restrictions.” The arrest of human rights defenders who are working to advocate for a more peaceful and democratic society chills the work of human rights and violates the rights to freedom of association and expression. The Zimbabwe government must address the harm caused to these human rights activists through their unlawful detention and unjustified charges.

The Contonou Declaration goes on to call on governments to “[e]ngage in dialogue and consultation with human rights defenders and publicly recognize and support their work through communication and information campaigns.” Working together with human rights defenders will allow Zimbabwe to move towards a greater respect for human rights, and to a more open and free democracy. The threat of arrest should not hang over the brave activists who advocate for the rights of their fellow human beings.

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