On 27 April 2022, human rights defender and Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) Secretary General, Robson Chere, was arbitrarily detained by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation, reports the Front Line Defenders (FLD).
According to FLD, the human rights defender was conducting a planning workshop at Guruve Growth Point when the officers interrupted the meeting, and arrested the human rights defender without a warrant. Chere was released later the same day after he was dropped off at the Guruve Police Station.
Chere is a human rights defender and the secretary general of ARTUZ which is a Trade Union working for the improvement of the working conditions of rural teachers as well as the right to education in rural areas of Zimbabwe.
Founded in 2009 in response to extremely poor wages and working conditions of rural teachers, the union now has about 35,000 members and operates in 10 provinces, widening its reach to include non rural teachers.
It is reported that on 27 April 2022, Chere was conducting a planning workshop for ARTUZ’s Save Our Education campaign when two plain clothes individuals, later identified as members of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), interrupted the meeting.
FLD says he was briefly arbitrarily detained for about an hour on the roadside by the two men. After his arbitrary detention was made public online, with ARTUZ reporting the make and the number plate of the vehicle in which Robson Chere was taken, the human rights defender was dropped off at the Guruve Police Station.
Chere was then handed over to the CID Law and Order Department and detained for an additional 3 hours without charges. During his detention, the human rights defender was interrogated about the workshop meeting. The officers demanded to know “who is funding [the ARTUZ campaign]” and “what the big goal” is. The police released him without charges after the interrogation.
This is not the first time that ARTUZ and its members have been targeted. On 27 April 2019, Robson Chere and fellow ARTUZ members Jess Drury, Precious Ndlovu and Munyaradzi Ndawana were arbitrarily detained by the CIO section of Harare Central Police Station.
The four defenders were released later the same day, but continued to face judicial harassment into 2020. On 12 January 2021, sixteen human rights defenders and members of ARTUZ were arrested during a peaceful protest.
The human rights defenders in this case were charged with participating in a gathering with the intention to promote public violence, bigotry and breaches of peace, as defined in Section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. They are still experiencing continued judicial harassment.
Front Line Defenders says it is deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention and interrogation of human rights defender, Robson Chere, and the continued targeting of ARTUZ and its members, as it believes this to be due to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.
Meanwhile, a number of organizations including ARTUZ as well as Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders have condemned the act.