PRESS RELEASE

Zimbabwe added to human rights watchlist as President Emmerson Mnangagwa targets NGOs and members of the opposition ahead of next year’s elections

22 September 2022

  • Government suspends the registrations of various NGOs
  • Smear campaigns being used against organisations and diplomatic missions
  • Legislation has been introduced to make it easier for the government criminalise and ban organisations

Zimbabwe has been added to a watchlist of countries that have seen a steady decline in civic freedoms. As Zimbabwe gears up for general elections in July 2023, civic space is under severe attack with increasing restrictions targeting civil society and opposition groups ahead of the elections being reported. Restrictive amendments to Civil Society Organisation (CSO) law, public vilification of CSOs and foreign diplomatic missions, raids on CSO activities and suspension of CSO registration have become commonplace.

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories. Other countries included on the list are Guatemala, Guinea, Serbia and Sri Lanka.

A new Bill introduced in November 2021, the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, if passed, will see CSOs subjected to  tighter restrictions and seeks to provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to over regulate and interfere in non-government organisations’ governance and operations, amongst other restrictions. The bill represents one of the greatest threats to freedom of association in Zimbabwe and is an attempt by the authorities to target civil society groups that have often raised concerns about violence related to elections. Even before the passing of the Bill into law however, authorities suspended the registration of trusts and PVOs until further notice,raising fears that the government had unlawfully begun implementing the Bill before its confirmation into law, in what seems to be a bid to shut out CSOs from participation in the democratic space, ahead of the general elections.

“Authorities should hold consultations with civil society to review the PVO Amendment Bill to ensure it is in line with international standards on freedom of association and international principles protecting civil society, and refrain from the unwarranted disruption of CSO registration and activities. The law must not be used to throttle the work of civil society especially at a crucial time where CSO participation and oversight in the democratic space is key” Said Sylvia Mbataru, Civic Space Researcher for Eastern and Southern Africa at CIVICUS.

In response to concerns about the PVO amendment Bill, state-controlled media outlets, in particular, The Sunday Mail and The Herald, launched an unwarranted and unsubstantiated propaganda and smear campaign agenda in April and May this year, painting civil society as conduits of foreign agents and criminal activities, amongst other narratives.

CSOs are also facing unrelenting harassment with authorities regularly disrupting their activities, for instance arresting and detaining staff, as was reported in separate meetings held by Shamwari yeMwanasikan, the Mash Central Youth School on Constitutionalism and the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD) in May and June 2022. The opposition has also not been spared, as the government embarks on a severe crackdownon opposition party members and their supporters, particularly of the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), who face constant arrests, attempts at banning their rallies and attacks from supporters of the ruling party.

Zimbabwe is currently rated ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 50 countries in the world with this rating ( see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see the full description of ratings).

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For more details, or to arrange an interview, please contact: media@civicus.org