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4 July 2019

Judicial harassment of ARTUZ human rights defenders

On 21 June, ARTUZ national president, Obert Masaraure was arrested at Hwedza Police Station where he had gone to report in line with the bail conditions imposed upon him in January 2019. The Police officers alleged that he had violated bail conditions. After spending five days in remand prison, the court ruled that he had not violated any bail conditions, therefore he was released. He is waiting his day in court on charges of Subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), is a registered Trade Union defending the right to education in rural areas of Zimbabwe and labour rights. The Union advances the interests of teachers in rural schools.

Since December ARTUZ and their activists have been facing violations of human rights. On 15 December 2018, ARTUZ’ HRDs were arrested when they were demonstrating to demand a living wage from the government. They were detained on a charge of engaging in an illegal protest. On 17 December 2018, the National Prosecuting Authority refused to prosecute them noting that they had not violated the law.

On 16 January 2019, Robson Chere, ARTUZ Secretary General, was abducted at Arcturus High School in Harare where he is employed as a teacher by members of the Military Intelligence. The kidnappers accused him of having been involved in mobilizing the protests against fuel increases held from 14 to 16 January. Mr Chere was later taken to Goromonzi Police Station where he was charged with intimidating and assaulting members of the Military.

On 18 January, armed members of the Military Intelligence abducted and tortured ARTUZ National President, Obert Masaraure at his Harare home at about midnight. After being tortured he was handed over to the police at Harare Central Police Station.

On 27 April 2019, during a meeting in Greystone Park, Harare, human rights defenders and teachers Robson Chere, Jess Drury, Precious Ndlovu and Munyaradzi Ndawana were abducted by a group of individuals in plain clothes, suspected to be state security agents, and taken to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) section of Harare Central Police Station where they were interrogated about their human rights activities. They were released later on the same day but were charged with crimes against public order.

The recent incidents form part of a pattern of violations against ARTUZ and its members which started in December 2018 and have recently escalated. These incidents come in a context of harassment and detentions committed against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe in reprisal for their work on the right to education in rural areas, labour and other civil rights.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and judicial harassment of ARTUZ HRDs and believes that these measures are solely motivated by their legitimate activities in defence of human rights. Front Line Defenders condemns the ongoing human rights violations by security agents and recognises them as part of an effort to clamp down on freedoms, specifically against human rights defenders fighting for the right to education in rural areas, labour and other civil rights in Zimbabwe.