On 4 December 2013, human rights defender Ms Martha Tholanah was summoned to appear in Rotten Row Magistrate Court. She has been charged with running an “unregistered” organisation under Section 6 (iii) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act and will appear in court on 12 December 2013.
Martha Tholanah is Chairperson of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). GALZ is an association founded in 1990 that advocates for social tolerance for sexual minorities and the repeal of homophobic legislation in Zimbabwe.
The summons, stamped on 7 November 2013, was served to Martha Tholanah’s lawyer, Tonderai Bhatasara, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
On 23 August 2012, Martha Tholanah was charged with running an “unregistered” organisation after officers from Harare Central Police Station executed a search warrant at the GALZ offices. The police indicated that nothing illegal was found in documents or computers, however they advised that the confiscated materials would not be returned until the case was concluded. At the time, Martha Tholanah was told that she would be summoned under the PVO Act.
The search at GALZ office was preceded by instances of police harassment. On 20 August 2012, the police attempted to enter GALZ offices, but no members of staff were in the offices at the time. On 21 August 2012, unidentified members of the Zimbabwe National Army reportedly patrolled the GALZ offices and recorded details from caretaker’s documents with information on people who had visited the GALZ offices in recent months, including one visitor’s phone number.
On 11 August 2012, thirty one men and thirteen women members of GALZ were assaulted, arrested and detained at Harare Central Police Station following the launch of the GALZ Violations Report and Briefing of the second draft Zimbabwe Constitution. Members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were denied access to the detainees. They were all released within a day.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the ongoing mistreatment of GALZ members and the shrinking space for civil society in Zimbabwe in light of similar charges being brought against other human rights defenders, such as Abel Chikomo.