“The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) condemns the arrest of MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] parliamentary candidate Arnold Tsunga and 50 supporters on 20 July 2013, and the banning of a political rally in Harare,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Arnold Tsunga, vying for a seat in the eastern city of Mutare, was detained on Saturday together with his campaign team allegedly for holding an unauthorised rally, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said at the time.
Tsunga is running for the MDC of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe's archrival.
"They are currently [Saturday] detained at Dangamvura Police Station and the police have indicated their intention to transfer them to Mutare Central Police Station," the group said in a statement over the weekend.
In response to the arrests made, SALC called "on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Electoral Observers deployed by the Southern African Development Community and African Union to investigate and address the recent incarceration of Mr Tsunga and the cancelling of the political rally in Harare, and to ensure that the rights of all stakeholders are respected and protected during this important time,” SALC said.
Zimbabwean parties are preparing for the July 31 vote, which will end the uneasy coalition between Tsvangirai and Mugabe born of the power-sharing deal that followed deadly 2008 post-election violence.
'Intimidation of Zimbabwean citizens'
“The disruption and denial by Zimbabwean police of peaceful political gatherings; the arbitrary arrest of electoral candidates; and the intimidation of Zimbabwean citizens, violates the rights of freedom of association, assembly and expression of Zimbabweans, members of the political opposition and human rights defenders,” SALC said.
Director of SALC Nicole Fritz said, “In the build-up to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections, Zimbabwe must commit itself to the creation and maintenance of an environment conducive to political freedom; one in which no political party, electoral candidate or individual is prevented from campaigning on the basis of political opinion or affiliation. All voices are protected and must be allowed to be heard.”
SALC demanded Zimbabwe respect political rights and called on the authorities responsible for the oversight of activities during the election period to ensure that the law is not manipulated, abused or applied in manner that offends the Zimbabwean Constitution
“Section 67 of the Zimbabwean Constitution explicitly provides for every Zimbabwean citizen to participate in the activities of a political party of their choice; ‘to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party’; ‘to participate in peaceful political activity’; and ‘to participate, individually or collectively … in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the Government’.”
According to its statement, failure to ensure that basic safeguards to protect fundamental rights are in place threatens the credibility of the upcoming elections and brings into question Zanu-PF’s commitment to free and fair elections. – Additional reporting by AFP