Civil Society Attacks Raise Concerns Ahead of Zimbabwean Referendum


The recent state-sponsored harassment of democracy and human rights organizations in Zimbabwe is a blatant violation of citizens’ fundamental freedoms and threatens the credibility of the upcoming constitutional referendum. Freedom House calls on Zimbabwe’s leaders to end the attacks on civil society and hold accountable those responsible for ordering the raids.

Early Friday, police working with officers from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation and Criminal Investigations Department raided the Bulawayo offices of Radio Dialogue, a civil society organization working to increase access to information to local communities. According to reports from civil society, officers presented a warrant alleging that they were searching for “possession of smuggled radio receivers.” The raid ended with police confiscating 180 portable radios. This type of radio is used by rural communities, which do not have access to other forms of media, to listen to local and international news programs. Recently the government of Zimbabwe announced a ban on shortwave radios, claiming that they could be used to promote hate speech in the lead up to elections anticipated for the coming year.

“President Mugabe’s continued calls for a peaceful vote are meaningless until he puts an end to these blatant attacks on civil society,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president at Freedom House. “This constitutional referendum is a critical juncture in Zimbabwe’s history, and without the protection of fundamental freedoms, the country risks reliving the violence surrounding elections five years ago.”

Over the past four months, the offices of more than a dozen organizations have been raided, files and equipment confiscated, and leaders arrested. State security forces continue to use existing restrictive legislation, such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Criminal Codification and Reform Act, as legal justification for raids and arrests. The recent crackdown on civil society organizations, which are defending citizens’ rights and promoting integrity in the voting process, appears to be politically motivated.

The constitutional referendum will be first national vote in Zimbabwe since the 2008 disputed presidential elections. The electoral violence that surrounded those elections left more than 200 people dead and resulted in the regionally-mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA), which ended violence and created Zimbabwe’s current power-sharing government. The GPA also outlined many necessary reforms which the government needed to implement in order to ensure more democratic laws and institutions and credible elections. To date, however, very little progress has been made by the government implementing these reforms, which seriously threatens the chances of free and fair elections anticipated for later this year. 

A list of the CSOs that were raided:

Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development Group
Counseling Services Unit
Election Resource Centre
National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations
National Youth Development Trust
Women of Zimbabwe Arise
Youth Initiative for Development in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Election Support Network
Zimbabwe Peace Project

Zimbabwe is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House’s annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012 and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2012.

To learn more about Zimbabwe, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Zimbabwe

Freedom on the Net 2012: Zimbabwe

Freedom of the Press 2012: Zimbabwe

Countries at the Crossroads 2012: Zimbabwe

Blog: Zimbabwe after Mugabe: An Interview with Karl Beck

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhousedc) and Instagram. Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our RSS feedsnewsletter and our blog.