The last four years have seen a relentless clampdown on all those who are perceived as opposing the ruling party, ZANU-PF. State repression has relied on key new pieces of legislation that give the state almost unlimited powers against its own people. It is two years since the most draconian act in Zimbabwe’s 24-year history was passed into law – the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Since it was passed in January 2002, POSA has been used weekly to silence democratic voices, and hundreds have been arrested in terms of its clauses. With a general election constitutionally bound to take place within the next year, it is essential to review the state of democracy in Zimbabwe at this time, and to identify those aspects that will rule out from the onset the possibility of any election being free and fair. It is clear that the POSA is a powerful, anti-democratic weapon that has been and will continue to be used against alternative voices in Zimbabwe. POSA rules out almost every democratic activity, including the rights to freedom of speech, opinion and association.
This report is the first since the passing of POSA to attempt to pull together available information on arrests of civilians over a one-year period, from February 2003 to January 2004, in order to draw out trends in arrests and the specific use of POSA by the police.
Approximately 1,200 arrests from around Zimbabwe are analysed here in terms of: what charges if any were laid; outcome, if any, of cases; abuses by authorities at time of arrest. These arrests are by no means all those that took place during the time in question; lawyers from 27 legal firms in five towns have released general information on political arrests for the purposes of this study. Not available to the authors are details of arrests in which those arrested did not have legal representation, which is commonly the case in Zimbabwe particularly in smaller centres, and arrests that were processed via legal firms not involved in this study. Findings here should therefore be considered to give a good indication rather than a comprehensive overview of how the police power of arrest has been used and abused in Zimbabwe within this twelve-month period.
After analysing 1,225 arrests in Zimbabwe during a 12 month period the following conclusions can be drawn:
- Civilians in Zimbabwe are systematically arrested when attempting to undertake activities that are considered a normal part of democracy in most other nations, such as the rights to boycott, to gather peacefully and to express opinions.
- The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) is the most commonly cited Act on arrest of civilians attempting to hold public meetings
- POSA would be considered an unjust law in most other nations of the world, but having it on the Statutes allows the Zimbabwean government to retain a façade of lawfulness while suppressing its own people
- POSA is used in a politically partisan way to effectively prohibit normal democratic activities undertaken by civil society or opposition political parties, while supporters of the ruling party can undertake the same activities without interference.
- Torture, assault and psychological harassment are systematically used by the police and other law enforcement agents while arresting civilians and also in custody, resulting on occasions in severe injury.
- The State has shown little inclination to pursue cases against most of those accused and detained, indicating their primary motive on arrest is to intimidate and prevent activities that would be accepted in most societies, including passive resistance and boycotts. Where the State has pursued cases related to arrests during 2003, it has failed to achieve conviction.
- The introduction from 13 February 2004, of 28 days detention without bail, evidence or charge, applicable to arrests under sections 5-11 of POSA must be condemned in the strongest terms. 16% of arrests in 2003 were in terms of these 7 sections, and included opposition party and civil society leadership.
- Bearing in mind the failure of the State to successfully prosecute those accused under POSA, and the prevalence of torture in custody, the 28 day detention law should be seen for what it is – a tool with the capacity to imprison opposition leadership without evidence for as long as it suits the State.
- POSA and the general power of arrest are being used as tools by the ruling party to maintain their power at the cost of their citizens’ rights.
As long as POSA remains on the statutes in Zimbabwe, freedom of association, speech and movement will be officially illegal. The existence of POSA alone, gives grounds to conclude that any election in Zimbabwe at this time cannot be considered free and fair, as this statute prohibits normal democratic activities. Before any further elections are held in Zimbabwe, there is therefore a need to repeal POSA and to re-educate the police on the responsibilities of law enforcement agencies to respect the rights of all its citizens in an impartial way.