African observer networks condemn the arrest of observers in Zimbabwe

Regional networks of citizen observers in Africa have unequivocally condemned the arrest and detention of citizen observers on election day in Zimbabwe. The African Election Observers Network (AfEONet), Eastern and Horn of Africa Election Observers Network (EHORN) and the West African Election Observers’ Network (WAEON), are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of 38 citizen observers.

Secrets Known has learned that on August 23, 2023 in the evening at around 11pm, operatives from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and Criminal investigations Department (CID) raided the joint data center of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Center (ERC) on Grange Road in Harare, at Holiday Inn, and homes of some individuals from ZESN’s management and leadership arresting a total of 38 volunteers.

The arrested individuals were largely young Zimbabweans who volunteered to support democracy in their country. They were trying to fulfil their civic duty as active citizens. The secret known is that as citizens of the country, they have rights already.

In a statement released by the Zimbabwe Police dated 24 August 2023, the Police has branded the activities of citizen observer organisations ZESN, ERC and Team Pachedu as “subversive and criminal”.

The Police statement revealed that a total of 93 smart phones, 38 laptops, two smart watches, two modems, one WiFi router, one external hard drive, a Nokia feature phone, one printer, 1×24 port switch, various computer chargers, power back-up units and headphones.

The police statement further argues that the arrested individuals “were in the process of feeding information to a location in The Grange, Harare where presidential election results were to be announced using the VPN system through Apollo concept”.

After serving police with a letter threatening legal action, lawyers representing the detained citizen observers were granted access to 38 people in detention. They interviewed them to get more details as they work out their defence and arrange either police bond or court bail. They have been charged with contravening section 66 of Electoral Act of Zimbabwe.

AfEONet, EHORN and WAEON have condemned these over-the-top actions as unconstitutional and abuse of power. These arrests undermine the credibility of the elections and constitute an affront to the rule of law and the principle of free and fair elections which among others allows different actors including accredited election observers to play their role as citizens of Zimbabwe.

The actions of CIO and CID operatives at the instruction of the ZANU PF government, violates the objectives of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (Chapter 7)  as well as the Global Principles governing the rights of Domestic Election Observers and the Sovereign rights of the victims to freely participate in their elections guaranteed by sovereign constitutions, Articles 19 of The Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights for which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

The Hashtag #FreeZimbabweElectionObservers has been created on X social media platform and is now trending.

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