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24 May 2024

Concern at criminalisation of human rights defender Obert Masaraure, National President of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe

On 24 May 2024, human rights defender Obert Masaraure was unjustly sentenced to a fine of US$200.00 (or spend 2 months in prison) with a suspended 4 months prison sentence over the next 5 years, contingent upon good behaviour. Front Line Defenders believe this ruling is an attempt to silence the legitimate advocacy efforts of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ).

Obert Masaraure is the National President of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), a registered Trade Union which works since 2009 to defend the labour rights of teachers and to protect schools, students and teachers from political interference and manipulation in rural areas of Zimbabwe. He provides leadership and direction for the organisation and leads networking and communication on behalf of the Union. ARTUZ challenged the government to address the miserable salaries and working conditions that rural teachers have to endure, and to provide decent accommodation and training, among other issues of concern. ARTUZ is also the winner of the 2022 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk for Africa. Two years ago, on 27 May 2022, Obert Masaraure received the award in Dublin on behalf of ARTUZ and travelled to Brussels for a series of meetings with EU officials after the Awards ceremony.

The human rights defender was convicted on 22 May 2024 of “obstructing justice” as a result of a solidarity message he posted on X (formerly twitter) demanding the release of one of his colleagues, Robson Chere, also member of ARTUZ. The court sentencing was postponed by the magistrate on 23 May 2024 after hearing from both the defense and the prosecution. He thus spent one night in remand prison and one night in custody. On 24 May 2024, Obert Masaraure was sentenced with a fine of 200USD fee and 4 months of suspended jail sentence, contingent upon good behaviour.

In Zimbabwe, groups such as professional unions, HRDs and civil society in general have been targeted as scape goats when they became vocal about issues such as poor governance, corruption and the deterioration in human rights. ARTUZ has worked relentlessly over the past 15 years to improve the working conditions of teachers, and to defend and ensure equal access to education. Their members have been arrested, and attacked for their work.

Obert Masaraure had previously been subjected to judicial harassment. On 15 June 2022 he was arrested at the Harare Central Police station and charged with the murder of trade unionist Roy Issa when he went to the Harare Central Police station for his routine remand bail hearing. Roy Issa was a youth activist and member of ARTUZ who died in an accident in 2016. Obert’s arrest and charge came days after Obert Masaraure received the annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk in Dublin, and a few days before the peaceful protests ARTUZ planned to hold in June 2022.

Front Line Defenders stands in solidarity with all ARTUZ members, while expresses its deep concern at the recent instances of intimidation and judicial harassment against them. Front Line Defenders believe the recent sentencing of human rights defender Obert Masaraure, as well as the other charges brought against him which still are pending resolution, are an act of reprisal for his peaceful and legitimate exercise of his right to defend human rights, to freedom of expression and to freedom of assembly and association. Front Line Defenders reminds the relevant authorities that all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe should be able to freely and safely carry out their important human rights work without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.