Defenders at risk: Fears grow for illegally detained staff in Zimbabwe

Fidelis Mudimu, a newly elected Council Member at the IRCT, is among the three staff members of Counselling Services Unit who remain illegally detained. Mudimo has been working in the field of medical and psychological treatment to victims of trauma  and organised violence in Zimbabwe for 12 years.

(UPDATE BELOW)

As a global movement, the IRCT’s member centres aren’t only based within the world’s relatively safe, stable and prosperous countries.   Many are based in countries where the rule of law is weak.  These are, of course, often the countries where torture is rampant and the need for rehabilitation great.

The work done by brave men and women in such situations – the healing they carry out – is often not without personal risk.

Just this week IRCT member Counselling Services Unit in Harare, Zimbabwe found itself raided by 12 uniformed and non-uniformed police officers.  The clinic was surrounded by armed riot police who threatened to fire tear gas into the building, which is also occupied by other tenants. Patients awaiting services were left unattended for four hours while the police demanded and forcibly seized confidential medical records. And five staff members were arrested.

The police came with a search warrant limited to “material likely to deface any house, building, wall, fence, lamp post, gate or elevator without the consent of the owner or occupier thereof.”

CSU tell me that they must adhere to Environmental Compliance requirements for health facilities, following the guidelines issued by the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health. The guidelines require separation of cleaning materials for areas of ablution and areas of food storage and preparation. The cleaning utensils are clearly marked using spray paint, and the paint is stored on the premises in the work area of the janitor. It is not hidden or stored secretively and was purchased in July 2012. CSU have handed the receipts of purchase of three 250ml cans of spray paint from the local hardware store to the police. The police fixated on the finding of this paint and refused to listen to any explanation.

In spite of having a warrant limited to “material likely to deface” the police arrived with an IT expert and left with a computer – a computer for which they had no warrant to take and which contains confidential data on patients of the clinic.

It doesn’t get much lower than that: stealing the records of people who are undergoing treatment to recover from trauma is just despicable.

CSU and the IRCT are deeply worried about the lost data.

Moreover, both CSU and the IRCT are very concerned for the safety of three CSU staff – one of whom – Fidelis Mudimu – was recently elected to the Council of the IRCT. The three staff are still in illegal detention following Monday’s raid – two were released that same day. We just heard today that the three have been moved nearly 500km from Harare to detention facilities in the city of Bulawayo. The removal of the three staff to another location and the further detention order with no defined charges or substantive evidence of illegal activities constitutes serious and illegal harassment.

The IRCT is calling for their immediate release and an end to the harassment of its member centre.  It also requests that civil society and the wider international community join in its calls.

Bringing light to their stories is an effective way to help human rights defenders. Please read this update about them and join us in advocating for their release by sharing in your networks to bring international attention to the plight of these courageous human rights defenders — who risk their freedom everyday to help others.

Update: We have just received word from a colleague at CSU that the three were granted bail and remanded out of custody until 6 December 2012.

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