Police announced on Thursday that thirty-nine local election observers in Zimbabwe’s general elections have been arrested, as the turbulent poll extended unexpectedly into a second day.
During a series of raids conducted on Wednesday night, they were apprehended, and the authorities confiscated their computers and mobile phones, the police reported.
“These were coordinating the alleged release of election results by some civic organisations,” police spokesman Paul Nyathi said.
A group of human rights lawyers stated that several individuals were detained from an “election observation data centre.”
The individuals who were arrested belong to two prominent civic organizations, namely the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre (ERC), both of which are dedicated to advocating for transparent and equitable elections.
Additionally, these two organizations independently carry out vote tabulations, distinct from the official count overseen by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
“There can be no clearer sign of the profound panic of the ruling party than this drastic and egregious action,” the spokesman for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) opposition, Charles Kwaramba, said in a statement.
He commented that the police’s actions represent a drastic continuation of government measures leading up to the election, a period marked by the restriction or expulsion of media, activists, and observers from the country.
“This is a blatant attempt by a desperate ruling party to block observers monitoring and broadcasting the truth of this election,” Kwaramba said.
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa is in a presidential contest against 80-year-old incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa. The ZANU-PF party, which has held power since the country’s independence in 1980, is represented by Mnangagwa.
The elections have extended into an unprecedent second day due to reported delays in printing ballot papers. The CCC asserts that this issue is indicative of potential vote manipulation.
According to Nic Cheeseman, a democracy specialist from Birmingham University in Britain, the detainment of the observers is a distinct effort to hinder parallel vote tabulation and represents the most evident indication so far that ZANU-PF believes it might have been defeated and is now in a state of apprehension.
International monitoring of the elections is being conducted by observers from various entities, including the European Union, Commonwealth, African Union, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which comprises 16 nations.