Mtetwa said crackdown on VOP was aimed at ZLHR


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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.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 06HARARE112, GOZ INTENSIFIES ATTACK ON ZIMBABWE LAWERS FOR

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Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

06HARARE112

2006-02-02 13:21

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR B. NEULING

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE

USAID FOR E. LOKEN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2016

TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL ZI

SUBJECT: GOZ INTENSIFIES ATTACK ON ZIMBABWE LAWERS FOR

HUMAN RIGHTS

 

REF: A. HARARE 74

¶B. KHARTOUM 166 (NOTAL)

¶C. HARARE 1006 AND PREVIOUS (NOTAL)

 

Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d

 

——-

Summary

——-

 

¶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

 

SIPDIS

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).

 

¶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

summary.

 

——————————————-

VOP Crackdown Ensnares Human Rights Lawyers

——————————————-

 

¶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.

 

¶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

———————————

 

¶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.

 

¶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.

 

¶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

—————————————–

 

¶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.

 

¶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.

 

¶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

————————–

 

¶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.

 

¶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.

DELL

 

(12 VIEWS)

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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