Zimbabwe’s official election body said Wednesday it will not back down on its ban preventing a leading human rights group from monitoring a referendum Saturday on a new constitution. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association is facing charges related to alleged electoral offenses and will not be cleared to observe the referendum, said the election commission’s acting head Joyce Kazembe. Officials with the group, also known as ZimRights, have been accused of the illegal possession of voter registration forms and fraud in obtaining them. The group denies any wrongdoing. Most independent civic groups say they will boycott vote monitoring Saturday if any activists are barred access to observe polling. Police loyal to President Robert Mugabe have intensified raids and arrests targeting activist groups in recent weeks and have seized from offices documents and equipment, including cheap radio receivers that can tune in to stations not controlled by Mugabe’s local broadcasting monopoly.
Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba said the government was investigating what he called the recent illegal importation of the cheap radio receivers, according to Wednesday reports from the state Herald newspaper, run by Mugabe loyalists. Charamba said the devices were imported with the assistance of diplomats he did not identify. The hand-cranked radios, also capable of sending data on 3G mobile phone networks, are British made.
Charamba said the foreign ministry in Harare planned to summon the head of the embassy concerned but did not elaborate. “We are also investigating whether it has such a mandate within its terms of reference to engage in such work,” Charamba said, according to The Herald.