US announces new Zimbabwe sanctions over election rigging

Political Writer

The United States of America has introduced a new sanctions regime on Zimbabwe that will punish individuals involved in election management and the judiciary for allegedly suppressing opposition during elections.

The measure, dubbed a visa restriction, is likely to elicit a strong response from Harare, as it amounts to interference in local processes. Already, the US has sanctions in place against Zimbabwe aimed at institutions and individuals that allegedly undermine democracy and commit human rights abuses.

The opposition has over the years complained about rigged elections and uneven playing field, including alleged compromised institutions of electoral management and the courts.

And, on Monday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken obliged by announcing “a new visa restriction policy for undermining democracy in Zimbabwe”.

The punitive measures will immediately apply to those fingered in the elections held last August.

“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions, pursuant to Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, for individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Zimbabwe,” Blinken said in a statement.

“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.

“They 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.”

These sanctions are likely targeted at judges and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission who have been accused of abetting “rigging” of elections, with the judiciary under scrutiny for receiving loans from Government which amount to bribes, according to opposition and critics.

The punishment will cut close.

Blinken said: “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 U.S. 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,” he said.

Harare accuses the West of interfering in local politics to prop up the opposition since at least 2000, although this has not yielded fruit despite political and monetary support running into billions of dollars.

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