Less violence before elections, freedom of expression violated frequently

The month of January 2005 saw a number of assaults on people who were exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression, assembly and association as guaranteed by Section 21 of the Constitution. This right is a fundamental pillar in a democratic society. Its violation is a great retrogression in terms of democracy and protection of human rights as enshrined not only in the Constitution but in regional and international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe adheres as well.

The Human Rights Forum is deeply concerned that the trend to violate the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, especially as the Parliamentary elections approach, will lead to the violation of the right to participate freely in the governance of one’s country as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 21.

We emphasized this right in our Political Violence Report for December 2004 where comparative figures for the years 2003 and 2004 indicated that this was the most frequently violated right in both years. The pattern seems to continue in January 2005. Despite Police Commissioner Chihuri’s declaration that the police would deal with perpetrators of political violence without fear or favor and across the board, incidents reported in January 2005 suggest that there is inconsistency in applying the instruction as between Police Stations.

As Zimbabwe goes to the polls on 31 March 2005, general indications are that there has been a reduction in physical political violence in the last two months as contrasted with previous elections and by-elections since 2000. In some quarters, this will be regarded as the prime indicator of whether the election has been free and fair. However one should not regard this election in isolation as to forget the torture, assault and grave violations of fundamental human rights that have been occurring over the years.

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