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9/18/04 - CRACKDOWN IN ZIMBABWE  - 2004-09-20

In Zimbabwe, the government of Robert Mugabe continues to make it difficult for opposition leaders to exercise their political rights. Police in Harare arrested Professor Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a group promoting human rights and political reform. Mr. Madhuku was charged with defying Zimbabwe’s Public Order and Security Act by holding a demonstration without government permission. The demonstration was organized to protest a proposed law that would prohibit foreign human rights groups from operating in Zimbabwe.

“What is clear is that this is just repression,” Mr. Madhuku told a reporter. “The police warned me in the presence of my lawyer that one of these days I could be killed.” Nelson Chamisa, an opposition member of Zimbabwe’s parliament, was among thirteen others arrested apparently for holding a meeting in his own office.

Georgette Gagnon is deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. She says, “A vibrant civil society is essential to a functioning society. With parliamentary elections in March, the government [in Zimbabwe] needs to ensure space for civil society.”

Since its disputed victories in recent parliamentary and presidential elections, Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front has disregarded human rights, the rule of law, and the welfare of citizens. The government has closed independent newspapers, politicized the judicial system, and wrecked the economy. The result: millions of Zimbabweans are now in exile in southern Africa and around the world.

President George W. Bush says that every person “is meant by God to live in freedom”:

“Human rights are defined by a constitution. They’re defended by an impartial rule of law.... America stands with the world’s oppressed peoples. We’ve got to speak clearly for freedom, and we will, in places like Cuba or North Korea or Zimbabwe or Burma.”

Zimbabwe can begin to emerge from its crisis if next year’s parliamentary elections are free and fair. The government should implement election guidelines adopted by the nations of the Southern African Development Community. The struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with foreign interests. It is about the hope for a Zimbabwe that is decent and free.