ZIMBABWEAN rights groups fear a dramatic increase in violence and torture aimed at human rights activists in the run-up to the country’s presidential elections early next year.

In a research report released on Monday, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture, warn that Zimbabwean security police have been acting with impunity against activists.

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu (PF) party is known for its intimidation of opposition party members and activists.

In its report, the observatory says it found dozens of examples of the torture of human rights activists.

FIDH vice-president Arnold Tsunga said the mission’s aim was to assess the environment in Zimbabwe in which human rights "defenders" carried out their activities four years after the 2008 elections.

He said that due to a failure to implement conditions of the Global Political Agreement — which was instituted after the 2008 elections and which led to the formation of the government of national unity — human rights violations against activists continued unabated.

"The Zimbabwean authorities have continued to resort to pieces of legislation to selectively and systematically restrict the space for the enjoyment of freedoms of expression, association and assembly of human rights defenders," according to the report.

"So far, most perpetrators of human rights violations against human rights defenders have not been charged and remain free."

Among its recommendations, the report calls for the Zimbabwean authorities to put an end to harassment and to uphold the country’s constitution.

It also calls for the assistance of the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the United Nations to implement the Global Political Agreement fully and to ensure the presence of local and international observers for the elections next year.

Jacob van Garderen, national director of Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, said it was important for international organisations to maintain pressure on Zimbabwean authorities, as developments there would affect the entire region.