By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe – Several members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were assaulted and detained after two consecutive protests against the new draft constitution.
On February 13, WOZA members in Harare marched towards the parliament to stage a demonstration against the draft constitution.
Believing that the draft constitution is a “result of negotiations behind closed doors and a deal that suits the principals and the political parties in the inclusive government”, around 50 women filled the streets and rallied against its enactment. “… it was written for a current political climate and not for the future generation. A constitution is supposed to be written by the people because they should determine how they want to be governed. It is their role to give the rule to the rulers,” read some of the flyers the WOZA members were distributing during their march.
However, as they were approaching the parliament building, they were blocked by police officers. In an attempt to disperse the group, the police fired tear gas at the WOZA members. Afterwards, they arrested a number of protestors. Reports say that the police also used baton sticks, locally known as “sjamboks”, to beat up the detainees as they were being bundled into police vehicles.
The arrested WOZA members were eventually released without charge on the same day. But according to Dr. Tarisai Mutangi from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a number of women sustained major injuries from the assault.
The following day, members from the Bulawayo chapter held their annual Valentine’s Day protest. With the theme – One Love, the protest was set to be staged outside the police Headquarters in 9th Avenue, at Southampton House. It aimed to raise awareness about police brutality and to urge the police to respond to the group’s formal complaints about arbitrary arrests and the police’s use of indiscriminate violence against protesters. Although the march began smoothly and peacefully, as the members neared the venue, police officers started chasing them off with baton sticks. Once again, WOZA members were brought into custody without charge and released on the same day. However, according to WOZA leader Jennifer Williams, unlike the arrests the previous day, six of their male co-members and one female co-member remain in detention.
Amnesty International’s southern Africa director Noel Kututwa condemned the violent treatment of WOZA members by the police forces. “This most recent incident sounds yet another alarm bell for the exercise of internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in advance of the referendum on a new constitution and elections later this year,” Kututwa stated. “Human rights violations by the police, including arbitrary arrests and raids at offices of human rights defenders, go against the calls for tolerance made by President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai,” he added.
For further information, please see:
WOZA – 195 arrested during Valentines Day protest, 50 beaten, Bertha remains in custody – 15 February 2013
All Africa – Zimbabwe: Woza Valentine’s Day Protestors Beaten And Arrested in Bulawayo – 14 February 2013
Amnesty International – Zimbabwe: Eight women arrested after handing out teddy bears and roses in peaceful protest – 14 February 2013
The Zimbabwean – Police arrest and assault WOZA members – 14 February 2013
ZimEye – Woza Woman Strips Naked Before Police, 180 Arrested – 14 February
SW Radio Africa – WOZA women beaten & detained after anti-constitution demo – 13 February 2013