With a constitutional referendum and historic elections looming in Zimbabwe, one might assume that those in power would seek to burnish their deficient democratic credentials. Instead, the Government of National Unity (GNU), largely dominated by President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has doubled down, intensifying their assault on human rights defenders and civil society writ large.
The widespread crackdown comes as no surprise to those who have followed the plight of Zimbabwe. President Mugabe and ZANU-PF have routinely resorted to thuggish violence and intimidation during the run-up to national political events, particularly since 2000. It was during this period that the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by trade unionist and current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, rallied voters to reject a state-sponsored constitution, handing Mugabe his first electoral defeat since he came to power in 1980.
Mugabe responded with vengeance, enacting a range of repressive pieces of legislation, including the Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Act, which imposes onerous funding and registration restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). When existing legislation has failed to deter legitimate democratic activity, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Force (ZRP) has enthusiastically stepped to the fore, crushing dissent with impunity. Those who are critical of the status quo or dare question Mugabe’s dictatorial directives are branded “enemies of the state” and “agents of regime change,” thereby legitimizing the brutal tactics employed by the ZRP. A frequent target of this ire has been Zimbabwe’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) community. Continue Reading