State continues to persecute Abel Chikomo


With their plans for a snap election apparently in tatters, the state with the aid of a partisan police force has clearly reverted to its tried and tested methods - violence and persecution of leading human rights organisations and individuals.

The latest incident is the charging of the executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Abel Chikomo for allegedly violating the Private Voluntary Organizations Act by running an 'illegal' organization.

Charged under Section 6 (3) as read with subsection 1 of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act, Chikomo received the summons on Tuesday 3 July 2012 and the case has been set to go for trial on the 25th July 2012.

The investigation and interrogation of Chikomo has been going on since the beginning of February 2011. The police are alleging that he has been managing and controlling the operations of an illegal PVO. The police further allege that the Forum is required to register as a PVO before it can commence any of its activities as stipulated in its constitution. By directing the activities and instructing the staff of the Forum to perform such activities as well as raising resources for the Forum, the police allege that Mr Chikomo is knowingly acting in contravention of the PVO Act.

The police charge has raised eyebrows within the NGO community as it comes barely two months after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Zimbabwe. This latest move by the police is a continuation of planned harassment, intimidation and clampdown against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

The Forum is operating entirely in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe and is registered as a common law association as provided for under the constitution, making it exempt from registration as a private voluntary organization.  The Forum is also recognised by the Parliament of Zimbabwe and on several occasions, the Forum has appeared before various committees of Parliament including the Thematic Committee on Human Rights, briefing the committee, on, among other things, the role of human rights NGOs and the promotion and protection of human rights. All these bodies would certainly not collaborate with an illegal entity.

Such unlawful charges create uncertainty within civil society and directly impact on the operations of the affected individuals and their organizations. Activists spend a lot of time in courts diverting them from exercising their internationally recognized right to promote and protect human rights under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition calls on the Zimbabwean government to end harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and opponents of the government through abuse of the law. The government must guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their activities free of any hindrances and stop any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against human rights defenders.

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