GENEVA (24 May 2023) – A UN expert today expressed concern about the ongoing legal proceedings against human rights defender Obert Masaraure in Zimbabwe. She called for the charges against him to be dropped and urged authorities to put an end to the pattern of criminalisation of education and labour rights defenders.
“Mr. Obert Masaraure has long been targeted in reprisal for his peaceful work in defence of the labour rights of teachers, educators, and all those who seek to uphold the fundamental right to education in Zimbabwe,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor said.
Mr. Obert Masaraure is the National President of the Amalgamated Rural Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), a registered union that works in rural areas to defend the rights of educators and teachers. He was first charged in 2019 with “subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence”. Since January 2022, Mr. Masaraure has faced multiple arrests and charges, including participation in a protest, alleged murder, and public incitement to violence, while being released on strict bail conditions. After several postponements, he is due to stand trial on 29 May 2023 on charges related to national security, including public incitement to violence and obstruction of justice. A hearing on the murder charge is scheduled for 31 May 2023.
The expert said she had witnessed what appeared to be “a systematic targeting of human rights defenders from ARTUZ” who were working to promote the right to education and the right to an adequate standard of living for educators in rural areas of Zimbabwe.
“Since I took office in 2020, I have heard numerous allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and ill-treatment by police officers against human rights defenders working to protect labour rights,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that such targeting may be an attempt to deter others from standing up and peacefully assembling for the right to education in the country.
“I am hoping to see the charges against Mr. Obert Masaraure dropped and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to promote a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” Lawlor said.
The UN expert has raised her concerns with the Government of Zimbabwe and will continue to monitor the situation.