Police swooped on the offices of two independent election monitoring organisations in Harare on Wednesday night and arrested 39 activists.
The raids came as Zimbabweans voted in chaotic general elections marked by lengthy delays in voting due to shortages of ballot papers, particularly in urban opposition strongholds.
Police said the 39 were arrested for allegedly planning to release unofficial election results.
“A raid was conducted last night (Wednesday) at Holiday Inn in Harare, at a location in Belgravia, Milton Park and also in the Grange area where several communication gadgets were recovered which include laptops, phones,” police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.
“Thirty-nine suspects arrested. These were coordinating the alleged release of election results by some civic organisations which are linked to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the Election Resource Centre and others.”
Rights groups condemned the raids, which they said were aimed at stopping the organisations from conducting parallel tabulation of election results, which is legal.
“They are being held incommunicado since 9PM last night,” Rose Hanzi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said. “The more time passes without access to lawyers, it will become an enforced disappearance.
“This is a clear sign that the police have arrested the ERC and ZESN personnel to investigate. Police should investigate first and arrest after they have established a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
“Why have they not been afforded a phone call? They need to be fed and be treated with dignity. How safe are they? Incommunicado detention is unconstitutional.”