Beatrice Mtetwa, who was representing trustees of the Voice of the People radio station, said the crackdown on the “pirate” station was aimed at the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and its director Arnold Tsunga rather than at the station.
She was expecting “something big” to happen against ZLHR any day.
Tsunga and five other trustees of VOP had turned themselves in to the police after attempted arrests of Tsunga and another trustee. They appeared in court and were released on bail.
All six were charged with violating the Broadcasting Services Act for operating a radio station without a license.
Tsunga told a United States embassy official that the case against the trustees was weak. Radio Netherlands broadcast Voice of the People to Zimbabwe from the Netherlands, via a relay station in Madagascar.
There was no radio station signal broadcast from within Zimbabwe, therefore no violation of the Broadcasting Services Act.
Viewing cable 06HARARE112, GOZ INTENSIFIES ATTACK ON ZIMBABWE LAWERS FOR
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000112
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
USAID FOR E. LOKEN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2016
SUBJECT: GOZ INTENSIFIES ATTACK ON ZIMBABWE LAWERS FOR
REF: A. HARARE 74
Â¶B. KHARTOUM 166 (NOTAL)
Â¶C. HARARE 1006 AND PREVIOUS (NOTAL)
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d
Â¶1. (C) According to several Embassy sources in civil society,
the GOZ,s crackdown on the independent radio station Voice
of the People (VOP) is actually directed at the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and its head Arnold Tsunga.
Tsunga and other ZLHR employees, as VOP trustees, have been
charged with broadcasting without a license in a transparent
attempt to harass the organization. Furthermore, there are
also reports that Tsunga,s life may be in danger and he has
reportedly left the country. We recommend that the
Department issue a press statement deploring these threats
(see para 12).
Â¶2. (C) ZLHR representatives said they believed the government
was reacting to the African Commission on Human and People,s
Rights resolution condemning the GOZ,s human rights abuses,
which ZLHR authored. The report,s author told Emboffs that
the GOZ came under unexpected fire at the AU Summit in
Khartoum. He also said he expected the resolution would be
adopted at the next AU Council of Ministers summit. End
VOP Crackdown Ensnares Human Rights Lawyers
Â¶3. (SBU) On January 24, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
(ZLHR) reported that ZLHR Executive Director Arnold Tsunga
and the other five trustees of independent radio station
Voice of the People had turned themselves in to police
earlier that day, after attempted arrests of Tsunga and
another trustee earlier in the week (ref A). The six
trustees had appeared in court that afternoon and had been
released on bail. All six had been charged with violating
the Broadcasting Services Act for operating a radio station
without a license. Their next court appearance was scheduled
for February 10.
Â¶4. (C) On January 27, Tsunga told poloff that the case
against the trustees was weak. Radio Netherlands broadcast
Voice of the People to Zimbabwe from the Netherlands, via a
relay station in Madagascar. There was no radio station
signal broadcast from within Zimbabwe, therefore no violation
of the Broadcasting Services Act. Tsunga said a stronger
case would have been to arrest the staff for practicing
journalism IN Zimbabwe without a license. He speculated
that, since the prosecutor dealing with the case was a good
lawyer, she may have been sympathetic and deliberately chosen
a weak case.
The Real Targets: Tsunga and ZLHR
Â¶5. (C) On January 31, ZLHR lawyer Otto Saki told emboff that
the government was using the VOP case to target Tsunga and
ZLHR. In that regard, he noted that on January 26, the
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) had reported
that a source who may have been linked to the military had
warned them that the government had given the Zimbabwean
Military Intelligence (ZIC) orders to hunt Tsunga down and
kill him. Zimrights said that the government was aware that
the case against Tsunga and the other trustees would fail in
the courts and was therefore using extralegal means of
silencing him. Saki also noted that the police had also
raided both Tsunga,s house in his hometown of Mutare and his
residence in Harare. He added that Tsunga had accepted a
consulting contract abroad and had left the country for two
weeks to let things die down.
Â¶6. (C) Saki said the government was attacking ZLHR and Tsunga
because of the organization,s work crafting and lobbying for
the high-profile African Commission on Human and People,s
Rights (ACHPR) resolution condemning the GOZ,s human rights
abuses (ref A). The GOZ had been very upset by the ACHPR
resolution and had not expected it to go so far. The
government press had stepped up its negative stories on ZLHR
and mentioned the organization nearly every day. Saki said
ZLHR was expecting the government to raid its offices soon
and had moved its extensive records on the GOZ,s human
rights abuses and ZLHR litigation to another site.
Â¶7. (C) On January 31, Beatrice Mtetwa, a ZLHR trustee who is
representing the VOP trustees, told poloff she also believed
the real target of the VOP case was ZLHR and Tsunga. She was
expecting &something big8 to happen against ZLHR any day.
Earlier that day, police arrested four ZLHR paralegals
interviewing individuals at a camp for the displaced as part
of a project to document GOZ human rights abuses during
Operation Restore Order (ref C). Police took the four to a
nearby police station and released them without charge when
ZLHR lawyers intervened.
First Person Account of Incident in Sudan
Â¶8. (C) On January 30, ZLHR lawyer Jacob Mafume gave poloff a
first-person account of his experience at the AU Heads of
State meeting of the African Union in Khartoum, where
Sudanese police had detained him, along with other
representatives of African civil society (ref B). Mafume
said that the action did not appear to have any bearing to
Zimbabwe or the other countries named in the ACHPR resolution
and that it appeared to be an overreaction on the part of
working level Sudanese police officers.
Â¶9. (C) Mafume said several members of international and
African NGOs were discussing the upcoming AU summit when
police entered the room and other police, who had been posing
as Sudanese NGO representatives announced that the meeting
was cancelled because the discussion posed a threat to state
security. Police questioned the NGO representatives but all
were ultimately released and their belongings returned.
Mafume said the group had already discussed most of its
agenda, including ACHPR resolutions condemning human rights
abuses by several governments, including the GOZ.
Â¶10. (C) Mafume said that despite the government-sponsored
press attempts to dismiss the ACHPR resolution, its prospects
for eventual adoption by the AU appeared good. The GOZ had
not, for instance, gotten the &usual easy ride8 from its
fellow African governments and there had been a serious
discussion of how to deal with the GOZ,s continuing human
rights abuses. Mafume said the South Africans had brokered a
compromise allowing the GOZ until the next Council of
Ministers summit (most likely in June or July) to respond to
the resolution, but he predicted the Council would adopt the
resolution at that time as currently written.
Comment and Action Request
Â¶11. (C) The real target in the VOP case does indeed appear to
be ZLHR and in particular Arnold Tsunga. The government has
often used court cases to harass civil society and opposition
groups, of which ZLHR has been one of the most effective.
However, the death threats against Tsunga may signal the
regime,s reversion to the more violent tactics of a few
years ago, and could presage a greater degree of repression
against its opponents. Lending substance to this theory is
ZLHR,s role in the ACPHR resolution. The resolution is the
latest of several cracks in African solidarity with Mugabe
and its adoption would be a major setback for an increasingly
desperate GOZ. ZLHR, as the organization responsible, could
expect even harsher treatment if that comes to pass.
Â¶12. (C) With longstanding mission support, ZLHR has been
perhaps the most successful local NGO in documenting and
publicizing the GOZ,s human rights abuses domestically and
internationally. In this environment, we feel it is critical
to project USG support for our democratic partners when they
are under greatest threat. In that vein, we recommend that
the Department release a statement condemning the threats
against Tsunga,s life and underscoring official concern
about the safety of civil rights activists in Zimbabwe. Such
a statement could serve to protect a key figure in civil
society and signal to the GOZ, which is in the midst of a
modest diplomatic charm offensive, that our fundamental
concerns about ruling party abuses remain.