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Zimbabwe: NANGO members Mrs Dadirai Chikwengo and Mr Cephas Zinhumwe released, charges pending
Human rights defenders Mrs Dadirai Chikwengo and Mr Cephas Zinhumwe, arrested on 25 October 2009 after the NGO Directors' Summer School held on 23-24 October in Victoria Falls, were released on bail on 27 October 2009. Charges against them, however, are still pending. Dadirai Chikwengo is the Chairwoman of the Board of National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and Cephas Zinhumwe is its Chief Executive Officer.
Dadirai Chikwengo and Cephas Zinhumwe were arrested in Victoria Falls on Sunday 25 October, reportedly by representatives of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Central Intelligence Organisation. Zimbabwe Lawyers' for Human Rights Director, Ms Irene Petras, who also attended the Summer School, is representing Dadirai Chikwengo and Cephas Zinhumwe. They are facing charges under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) for holding a meeting which the police deemed political. Section 24 of POSA stipulates that an organiser shall notify the regulatory authority of intention of holding a public gathering. However, the State failed to clarify what regulation they had violated under POSA and the two defenders were granted bail on 27 October, pending another court hearing in November.
The Directors' Summer School is an annual event organised by NANGO bringing together directors from NGOs in Zimbabwe to reflect on their work, discuss the way forward for civil society, and issue statements targeted at the development of Zimbabwe. This year the Summer School was officially opened by the Minister of Public Service and Social Welfare.
The charges against Dadirai Chikwengo and Cephas Zinhumwe are linked to the statement issued by 120 NGO leaders at the close of the Summer School, in which they called for the intervention of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to ensure that the Global Political Agreement (GPA) between Zimbabwe's ruling coalition parties was honoured. The arrest was preceded by various news articles and opinion pieces in the state-controlled media that accused NGOs of working with the West and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), one of the coalition parties, to effect regime change.
Front Line believes that the charges pending against Dadirai Chikwengo and Cephas Zinhumwe are directly linked to their work in the defence of human rights.
Front Line urges the authorities in Zimbabwe to:
1. Immediately drop all charges against Dadirai Chikwengo and Cephas Zinhumwe, as Front Line believes that they are being brought solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.