A pan-African coalition of human rights groups, NetRights Coalition, has outrightly condemned the raid of digital technologies associated with the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN).
At least 41 civil society actors linked with the ERC and ZESN were raided by the Zimbabwean authorities on August 23, 2023.
The raid came as Zimbabweans voted in the presidential, parliamentary and local polls.
The authorities had raided no less than 93 smartphones, 38 laptops, two smartwatches, two modems, one Wi-Fi router, one external drive and other digital gadgets, according to the right groups.
The group, in the statement released on Monday, said the raid “compromises the safety of the broader ERC and ZESN family, their members, observers, volunteers and partners.”
It noted 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 digital technologies stifles free expression online and may be succeeded by privacy breaches and state surveillance.
According to the group, the raid violates individuals’ rights to privacy and is an attack on 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…”
While calling on the government of Zimbabwe to return the digital technologies to their rightful owners, the NetRights Coalition also asked the government 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.
It added, “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.”