Tech confiscated in Zimbabwe's electoral crackdown
Zimbabwe police, accused of persecution by government critics, claim to have stopped a group from using technology to illegally collect information on the presidential elections.
However, in a country where the state and civil society are polarised, human rights organisations claim that this is the latest in a series of crackdowns by law enforcement to limit activists' freedoms.
Around 40 employees of the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) were unlawfully detained on Wednesday, and were still detained at the time of publication.
On Thursday evening, police said that among those arrested were members of the pressure organisation, Team Pachedu. All the suspects were apprehended in a hotel in Harare.
"The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is disturbed by the subversive and criminal activities of certain individuals and civic society organisations, such as the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and Team Pachedu, in relation to ongoing electoral processes in the country," said police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi in a statement.
According to Nyathi, a total of 93 smartphones, 38 laptops, two smartwatches, two modems, one WiFi router, one external hard drive, a Nokia feature phone, one printer, 1X24 port switch, various computer chargers, power backup unit, and headphones were recovered.
"The equipment was illegally tabulating election voting statistics and results from polling stations across the country. Some observers and political party agents provided these data," said the police.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International says the government is targeting civil society with this crackdown. Further, it expressed concern about internet outages.
In a statement, Amesty said, the detentions occurred after the Zimbabwe NGO Forum produced a report documenting anomalies seen on election day.
Amnesty International's deputy director for Southern Africa, Khanyo Farisè, stated that all members of civil society organisations (CSOs) should be immediately and unconditionally released, and any confiscated technological equipment should be returned.
"CSO employees should never face intimidation or harassment simply for doing their jobs," Farise added.
Government-civil society relations are tense as successive Zimbabwe administrations accused civil society of being agents of the West and backing the opposition.