Sunday, January 30, 2005

Update on Roy Bennett

January 25 2005

The blistered hands are testimony to the hard labour that Roy Bennett is now enduring on a daily basis. He is no stranger to physical work, but the sheer exertion of labouring on the prison farm is leaving its mark on Roy. However, his spirits are high and he is enjoying working outdoors but he never forgets the injustice that he is suffering. An injustice made worse with every day he spends in prison, especially in light of the fact that Zimbabwe's courts are continuing to reserve judgement or are delaying hearing cases relating to the imprisonment of Roy Bennett.

Despite appeals by his lawyers that their client is likely to suffer irreparable prejudice, there appears to be no movement by the judiciary to settle the Bennett cases. There has been a noticeable delay by the High Court concerning the Application to Review the Parliamentary procedure that resulted in the Honourable MP for Chimanimani being sentenced to a year in prison with labour. In addition, Justice Hungwe has still not passed judgement in the case brought before him in November of last year applying for Bennett's release pending the outcome of the Review application.

Furthermore, the legal team has also prepared a Supreme Court challenge on the grounds that Bennett was denied a fair trial as guaranteed by Zimbabwe's constitution. No date has been given by the court to hear this case despite its obvious urgency.

While the courts' decisions are to be respected, questions must be asked about the numerous judicial delays related to this case that have so far failed to result in a single judgement. Roy Bennett has now been in prison for almost three months. This is an obvious example of justice delayed is justice denied.

Roy and the family would like to thank everyone who has sent letters and cards to him as he has received so much mail and it is very uplifting for him. Roy asked Heather to reply to each one, but because of the volume, she is not able to.

Friends of Roy Bennett

Food Emergency Deepens

"Nearly half of all Zimbabweans are facing hunger as the country's food emergency deepens," reports the Guardian.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Looming Food Shortages

The Financial Times runs a short piece today on looming food shortages in Zimbabwe:
A senior UN official voiced concern yesterday about the prospect of food shortages in Zimbabwe as a result of the decision by President Robert Mugabe's regime to refuse further food aid. James Morris, executive director of the World Food Programme, challenged the Zimbabwe government's claims of a bumper 2004 crop of maize, the staple food.
Following a harvest of less than 1m tonnes the year before, such a turnround would be "staggering" if true, he said.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Zimbabwe: The Terror and Abuse Goes On

The Mail and Guardian Online reports today on the campaign of violence and torture that continues under Robert Mugabe's regime:
New evidence of alleged attacks on opposition supporters in Zimbabwe has been passed to British newspaper The Guardian by activists who say they are being subjected to systematic violence, intimidation and sexual abuse in the run-up to elections in March.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Condi Rice: Zim an 'outpost of tyranny'
Last updated: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 23:34:41 GMT
THE United States signalled a hardening of its stance on President Robert Mugabe's regime on Tuesday when Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice named Zimbabwe in a list of six countries the US considers as outlaw States.
Read the full article here.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Mugabe Signs Repressive New Media Law

Committee to Protect Journalists
New York, January 10, 2005

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has signed into law a measure that sets prison terms of up to two years for any journalist found working without accreditation from the government-controlled Media and Information Commission. The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Mugabe and his government to turn away from such measures, including another piece of repressive legislation still pending.

The newly enacted measure stiffens the 2002 law known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which has already been used to shutter Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News. The measure, titled the AIPPA Amendment Act, took effect on January 7.

Parliament passed the AIPPA Amendment Act in November as one in a series of draconian measures adopted in advance of general elections scheduled for March. Critics say the measures are intended to intimidate the last vestiges of the independent press: Two independent weekly newspapers still operate in Zimbabwe, and some local correspondents work for foreign news agencies.

Other new legislation includes the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which could be used to jail journalists for up to 20 years for publishing or communicating to any other person “false” information deemed prejudicial to the state. CPJ sources said the law could be used to intimidate journalists and the sources upon which they rely. They also fear its broad language could be used against Zimbabweans who communicate with news outlets and other organizations based abroad.

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act awaits Mugabe’s signature.

“CPJ is deeply troubled by these measures, which will have a further chilling effect on independent journalism in Zimbabwe,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Zimbabwe’s government to reject all repressive media legislation and to ensure a free media climate for elections, in line with its own commitments to the Southern African Development Community.”

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) comprises 14 southern and central African countries, including Zimbabwe, and promotes sustainable development, democracy, peace and security.

“CPJ calls on SADC—and particularly South Africa’s influential president, Thabo Mbeki—to hold Zimbabwe accountable to regional democratic standards, “ Cooper said. “With the election approaching, it’s more important than ever that the press be allowed to report freely.”

Mbeki has been mediating between the Mugabe government and Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, but he has been muted in his public comments on Zimbabwe’s appalling human rights and free press record.

In 2004, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist. Last month, CPJ wrote to President Mugabe urging him not to sign the latest repressive media legislation.

To view the letter click here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Land Reform

The December 2004 issue of Voice of Habakkuk, the newsletter of the Habakkuk Trust, focuses on land reform. It's available in PDF format here.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Gloomy Election Countdown Begins

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
January 3, 2005

Wilson Johwa, Bulawayo

And so, another year in Zimbabwe - and in less than three months time, another election. It is a prospect that few seem to welcome.

Compare the political environment in the country now to what it was ahead of the last parliamentary poll in 2000, and the lack of voter enthusiasm is not hard to understand.

To begin with, a raft of repressive legislation has been passed that would be the envy of ruling parties elsewhere which are seeking re-election.

The Public Order and Security Act, passed in January 2002, gives officials the power to ban political rallies. It has also criminalized statements which could be seen to undermine the authority of the president, insult him or spark feelings of hostility towards him - thereby sounding the death knell for the average opposition stump speech.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (passed in March 2002) has restricted the activities of the independent press by obliging journalists to obtain accreditation from a government-appointed Media Information Commission.

"Local journalists risk criminal charges if they try to speak the truth. Besides, where would they publish? Most dissenting media voices have long ago been shut down," says an internet-based activist group, Sokwanele (which means "enough").

In addition, a Non-governmental Organisations Act, given the green light by parliament last month, bans foreign human rights groups from working in Zimbabwe. It also prohibits local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that focus on rights from receiving foreign funding.

As money for financing these organisations is scarce in Zimbabwe itself, the bill could force many local NGOs to close their doors - including several that deal with voter education. This prompted the European Union (EU) to note in a statement issued Dec. 22 that the NGO Act, which still awaits President Robert Mugabe's signature, "could have a significant negative impact on the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe."

Then again, those groups which do survive the funding crunch may also find themselves prevented from educating voters. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Bill, also enacted last month, empowers the newly-created commission to decide which organisations should be allowed to raise awareness amongst voters.

The establishment of the ZEC was apparently intended to bring Zimbabwe in conformity with a set of electoral guidelines adopted in August 2004 by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Amongst other things, these stipulate that polls should be supervised by impartial institutions, that all parties should have access to state media - and that campaigns should be free of political harassment. Last November, the government-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) refused to accept adverts from the opposition despite guarantees of payment. The ZBC also routinely condemns the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

However, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and others point out that the way in which ZEC commissioners are appointed still gives government too much say over who sits on the body.

"They (the ruling ZANU-PF party) have put everything in place to win the elections," says Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly - a body which lobbies for constitutional reform in Zimbabwe.

As a result, the MDC has suspended its participation in the March vote. Party officials say a final decision on whether to contest the poll will be taken this month, on the basis of whether government has made real progress in adopting the SADC guidelines.

But, "There is more to gain by not participating and mounting a campaign to build a mass movement," observes Madhuku.

Opposition followers were the recipients of sustained abuse and harassment by state agents and pro-government militants in the run up to the 2000 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential poll, (about 30 lives were lost in the parliamentary election alone).

This prompted the EU and United States to impose economic sanctions and travel restrictions on President Robert Mugabe and other high-ranking officials.

For his part, Mugabe accuses Western powers of conspiring with the opposition to topple his government. ZANU-PF has dubbed the upcoming poll an "anti-Blair election", in reference to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

While the members of Zimbabwe's political elite appear well-insulated from any threat to their financial wellbeing, the same cannot be said for ordinary Zimbabweans.

Government's controversial land redistribution programme and a costly involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war are amongst the factors that have led to precipitous economic decline in Zimbabwe.

The land reform initiative began in early 2000, when veterans of Zimbabwe's war of independence and other militants occupied white-owned farms, reportedly to protest against racial imbalances in land ownership that dated back to the colonial era.

While most of the country's prime agricultural land was in the hands of minority whites at the time, it has since been alleged that the farm invasions were orchestrated by government in a bid to gain public support ahead of the 2000 parliamentary poll.

In the five years that followed, Zimbabwe's economy contracted by 40 percent due to ravages in the agricultural sector - and the resultant uncertainty in other areas of business. Inflation, down from 623 percent last January, is still at a staggering 149 percent. Unemployment runs at 70 percent.

Food production also dropped dramatically. This, combined with the effects of a ruinous drought that has affected several SADC countries over recent years, has put millions of Zimbabweans in the position of requiring food aid.

In May last year, Harare prevented the United Nations World Food Programme from updating its assessment of the amount of aid needed in the country. This has raised fears that the supplies which are available will be distributed to gain votes, rather than on the basis of need.

"There's no doubt that the cleavages of discontent have widened," says Brian Kagoro, chairman of Crisis in Zimbabwe - a coalition of civil society organisations.

While some claim that levels of repression in Zimbabwe are lower than they were ahead of the 2000 and 2002 votes, largely because ZANU-PF is confident of a victory in March, the MDC has issued a report that details extensive human rights abuses against its members last year.

The party says seven of its legislators, 53 MDC officials and hundreds of activists were subject to arbitrary arrest, abductions, intimidation, assault, rape and destruction of property in 2004.

Fear of abuse and financial need have driven vast numbers of Zimbabweans abroad to South Africa, Britain and elsewhere (some estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the productive adult population, more than three million people, has left the country).

Most of these individuals will be unable to vote in the March poll. The Electoral Bill, passed shortly after the ZEC Bill, restricts the casting of postal ballots to government employees and their spouses.

Dissenting voices within ZANU-PF have been dealt with as ruthlessly as those outside the party. "ZANU-PF has become increasingly authoritarian in its own internal politics," notes Kagoro.

Perhaps the most high-profile victim of these actions has been Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who was removed from the highest decision-making body in ZANU-PF last month. This came after he organised a meeting of ruling party members to oppose the election of Joyce Majuru, who enjoys the support of Mugabe, to the post of vice president.

Moyo also had well-publicised differences with other ZANU-PF stalwarts. Additional reports, denied by government, indicate that he has tendered his resignation.

ZANU-PF has been in power in Zimbabwe since the country gained independene from Britain in 1980.