US imposes visa restrictions on Zimbabweans undermining democracy

The United States (US) has established a new visa restriction policy targeting Zimbabweans believed to be responsible for, complicit in and undermining democracy notably through election rigging or manipulation.

With police stifling opposition campaigns, the impartiality of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the failure to deliver ballot papers in opposition strongholds, and the involvement of the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ) in intimidating rural voters, among other factors that boosted Zanu PF votes, Zimbabwe’s democracy was undermined as witnessed in the run-up to elections on August 23, 2023 which according to SADC and the European Union fell short of regional and international standards. 

Although the US has not announced who the intended targets are, opposition politicians claim that some officials from ZEC, Zanu PF, police and the judiciary may be among those barred from travelling due to their impartiality and alleged unfairness in dealing with electoral matters.

Their families will also be denied US visas, secretary of state Antony Blinken announced.

“Such acts may include manipulating or rigging the electoral process; disenfranchising voters or preventing individuals from exercising their right to vote; excluding members of the political opposition from electoral processes; restricting the ability of civil society organizations (CSOs) to operate and engage in democratic, governance, or human rights related activities; or intimidation of voters, election observers, or CSOs through threats or acts of physical violence,” Blinken said.

The Secretary of State also said undermining democracy may also include engaging in corrupt acts, including bribery, that undermine the electoral process.

“Interfering with the independent operation of the judiciary during its adjudication of electoral cases; or abusing or violating human rights in Zimbabwe. Family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions. Anyone who undermines the democratic process in Zimbabwe—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Zimbabwe’s August 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy,” Blinken said.

“The visa restriction policy will apply to specific individuals involved in these acts, and is not directed at the Zimbabwean people. The United States supports Zimbabweans’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that reflect the will of the people and strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights.”

In response to the latest US action,  Congress for Transformation (CFT) spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa, said it would come as no surprise if any Zanu PF officials were denied visas to the US for their role in rigging elections and instigating violence during the election season.

Maphosa went on to say that some ZEC officials could be targeted as well.

“ZEC’s impartiality in handling the elections and dealing with political parties has not only been highlighted by Zimbabweans but by international observers. One will recall the shock that the EU observer mission had when they narrated how ZEC officials refused to entertain them,” he said in an interview with CITE.

“It is an open secret that ZEC and its staff cannot operate without Zanu PF’s political influence, including in its appointments and during the elections ZEC’s conduct on the preparations, regulations, disenfranchised some voters.”
Maphosa stated that the judiciary had also let down people during the elections as some judges allowed themselves to be used by Zanu PF.

“We saw how lawfare weakened the opposition such as the initial disqualification of opposition candidates particularly from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). That may be regarded as manipulation and control of the judiciary. As a result, this delegitimised the courts and we are worried that some members of the judiciary have lost credibility. I therefore will not be surprised to hear that certain judges may be denied visas to travel.”

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