2023 Polls: NetRights Coalition condemns raids of Digital Technologies of Civil Society Actors in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa

The NetRights Coalition has condemned the raid of digital technologies of at least 41 Civil Society actors associated with the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN).

The raid, which took place on August 23rd, 2023, was carried out by Zimbabwean authorities, as the country’s citizens voted in presidential, parliamentary, and local elections.

The raided digital technologies include 93 smartphones, 38 laptops, two smartwatches, two modems, one Wi-Fi router, one external drive and other digital gadgets.

In a joint statement, the organisations said that the raid “compromises the safety of the broader ERC and ZESN family, their members, observers, volunteers and partners.”

The NetRights Coalition emphasised that digital technologies are tools for enhancing digital democratic practices, free expression and access to information, particularly during electoral periods.

The coalition expressed concern that the raid of these digital technologies stifles free expression online and may be succeeded by privacy breaches and state surveillance.

The coalition said, “Cell phones contain sensitive information, including contact details of persons not connected to the raid. The raid violates individuals’ rights to privacy and is an attack to digital democracy in Zimbabwe, and Africa broadly. The raid is in contradiction to Section 57 of the Zimbabwe Constitution which stipulates that ‘Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have: (a) their home, premises or property entered without their permission; (b) their person, home, premises or property searched; (c) their possessions seized; (d) the privacy of their communications infringed…”’

“Consequently, the NetRights Coalition calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to return the Digital Technologies to their rightful owners.

“We also call on the Government of Zimbabwe to uphold its constitutional mandate in line with Section 61 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression including the freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information.

“We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to uphold International Human Rights obligations in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“Finally, NetRights Coalition calls on the government of Zimbabwe to make those involved in the raid accountable.”

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was at the weekend declared winner of the August presidential election, which many observers say fell short of acceptable standards.

Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime leader Robert Mugabe after a 2017 army coup, was widely expected to secure re-election despite the country’s continuing economic crisis, with analysts saying the contest was heavily skewed in favour of the ZANU-PF party, which has ruled the country since independence and the end of white minority rule in 1980.

Mnangagwa won 52.6 percent of the vote compared with 44 percent for Nelson Chamisa, his main challenger, according to official results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) late on Saturday.

“Mnangagwa Emmerson Dambudzo of ZANU-PF party is declared duly elected president of the Republic of Zimbabwe,” ZEC chairwoman Justice Chigumba told journalists.

The polls were marred by delays that fuelled opposition accusations of rigging and voter suppression but a small group of ruling party supporters celebrated the outcome on Saturday.

But Promise Mkwananzi, a spokesman for the Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) said the party had not signed the final tally, which he described as “false”.

“We cannot accept the results,” he told the AFP news agency, adding the party would soon announce its next move.

Foreign poll monitors said on Friday that the elections had failed to meet regional and international standards.

The head of the European Union’s observer mission on Friday said the vote took place in a “climate of fear”. Southern African regional bloc SADC’s mission noted issues including voting delays, issues with the voter roll, bans on opposition rallies and biased state media coverage.

“The elections were fraught with irregularities and aggrieved the people of Zimbabwe,” political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said.

“The CCC has good grounds to go to court and challenge the outcome”.

ZANU-PF denies it has an unfair advantage or seeks to influence the outcome of elections through rigging.

Chigumba of ZEC said 80-year-old Mnangagwa had won more than 2.3 million votes, while 45-year-old Chamisa had more than 1.9 million.

By securing more than half the votes cast, the president avoided a run-off. Voter turnout was 69 percent.

Nicole Beardsworth, a politics lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, said she thought the late Saturday announcement was probably a response to the critique by SADC and other election observers.

“We all have a lot of questions about the speed with which ZEC is announcing presidential results,” she said.

Nicknamed “The Crocodile” and long seen as Mugabe’s “enforcer”, Mnangagwa outmanoeuvred the ailing Mugabe to win power amid mass protests.

In 2018, he narrowly beat Chamisa in a poll the opposition leader condemned as fraudulent, but the constitutional court upheld the result.

This week, voting was forced into an unprecedented second day because of delays in the printing of ballot papers in some key districts including the capital Harare, an opposition stronghold.

Chamisa condemned the delays as “a clear case of voter suppression, a classic case of Stone-Age… rigging”.

As a white-ruled British colony named Rhodesia, the country broke away from London in 1965.

It finally gained independence in 1980 after a long guerrilla war and was renamed Zimbabwe.

But under Mugabe, an independence fighter turned politician, the economy spiralled into crisis, with hyperinflation wiping out savings and deterring investment. Mnangagwa was a key member of Mugabe’s government holding a series of portfolios including minister of state security, minister of justice and vice president.

The opposition hoped to ride a wave of discontent over continued corruption, high inflation, unemployment and entrenched poverty.

ZANU-PF was also declared the winner in the parliamentary race, securing 136 of the 210 seats up for grabs under a first-past-the-post system, against 73 for the CCC. One seat was not assigned due to the death of a candidate.

A further 60 seats are reserved for women appointed through a party-list system of proportional representation.


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