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Zimbabwe: Further harassment of WOZA members on International Day on WHRDs
THE OBSERVATORY - URGENT APPEAL
ZWE 002 / 0206 / OBS 015.2
Obstacles to the freedom of assembly / Ill-treatments /
Arbitrary arrests / Judicial proceedings
December 1, 2006
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Zimbabwe.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources, including Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), of new arrests and ill-treatments of members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA).
According to the information received, on November 29, 2006, more than sixty WOZA members and four MOZA members were arrested, as they were marching peacefully through central Bulawayo to the government offices at Mhlanhlandlela, in order to mark the launch of the People’s Charter and the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”, an international campaign running until International Human Rights Day on December 10, as well as to protest against the Public Order Security Act (POSA).
The repression of the march was particularly violent insofar as 30 riot police officers began to assault the peaceful group with baton sticks, forcefully dispersing most of the group, composed of over 200 participants. Many people were beaten, including a young baby. Six members were taken to Mpilo Hospital for medical attention, including one woman whose leg was broken and who was later transferred to a private hospital for treatment.
According to the information received, 41 persons were taken to Drill Hall, where they were beaten and harassed by police officers, before being released without charge on the same day. The others, including WOZA leaders Mrs. Jenni Williams and Mrs. Magodonga Mahlangu, were taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station.
Thirty-six members of WOZA and MOZA, including six mothers with babies, spent the night from November 29 to 30, 2006 at Bulawayo Central. Advocate Dube, lawyer for WOZA, was also threatened with arrest for “interfering with the course of justice” whilst trying to attend to her clients. She only managed to see the group on November 30, 2006, in the afternoon.
On November 30, 2006, the six mothers with babies were released. As of December 1, 2006, 34 WOZA/ MOZA members remained in police custody, being illegally detained as they have been arrested since over 48 hours.
The WOZA and MOZA members, including the six mothers released on November 30, who reported back to the Bulawayo Central Police Station on December 1, 2006, were charged under two separate sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act: Chapter 46 section 2 (v) – “employing any means whatsoever which are likely materially to interfere with the ordinary comfort, convenience, peace or quiet of the public, or does any act which is likely create a nuisance or obstruction” and Chapter 37 – ”participating in a public gathering with the intent to cause public disorder, breach of peace or bigotry”. If found guilty, the members could be fined or imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months or both.
At noon, on December 1, 2006, it still remained unclear whether they would be taken to court today as the arresting officers had not yet given their statements for fear of being sued for assault.
The Observatory, recalling that these facts occur in a context of systematic repression against human rights defenders who try to defend economic and social rights in Zimbabwe, expresses its deepest concern about those acts of violence and arbitrary detentions against peaceful marchers, all the more as they took place on the occasion of the first International Day on Women Human Rights Defenders, which was celebrated on November 29, 2006.
As a consequence, the Observatory urges the Zimbabwean government to put an immediate end to such acts of repression.
Background information :
On February 13, 2006, approximately 181 persons, mainly women, who were demonstrating under the banner of the NGO Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were arrested along with 14 children in central Bulawayo, as they were dispersing from a peaceful protest against the human rights violations. Four WOZA leaders, Ms. Jennifer Williams, Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu, Ms. Emily Mpofu and Ms. Maria Moyo, were among the persons arrested. The detainees were charged with “organising an illegal gathering” and “obstructing the free flow of traffic”, before being released on bail on May 17, 2006.
Furthermore, on February 14, 2006, more than twenty heavily armed police officers arrested from 60 to 100 women from WOZA, in Harare, while they were participating in a peaceful protest against economic and social inequalities faced by women in Zimbabwe. The women were rounded up and callously loaded into Harare municipal police trucks, and taken to the police station. Mr. Tafadzwa Mugabe, a lawyer from the ZLHR rapid reaction unit, was harassed, insulted and then detained for several hours with his clients, before being released without any charge being held against him.
On August 28, 2006, the 63 WOZA members were found not guilty by the Rotten Row Magistrates Court. The trial lasted 14 days.
Nonetheless, harassment of WOZA continued. On August 21, 2006, police arrested 153 WOZA members, who organised a demonstration in the city of Bulawayo to protest against the implementation of the Government’s Reserve Bank’s monetary policy. They were taken to the Bulawayo, Saucitown, Mzilikazi, Queens Park and Barbourfields police stations. Several hours later, their lawyers were able to get 39 of them released on the condition that they report to the police station everyday until their initial appearance in court.
In the course of the arrests, Ms. Ephy Khumalo, a WOZA member, fell from the police van and broke her arm. Several young women complained of beatings while being interrogated by officers of the Bulawayo Central Police Station.
On August 23, 2006, WOZA members appeared before the Court and were charged with violating section 37 (1) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. On the same day, all WOZA members were granted free bail and remanded out of custody.
On October 10, 2006, 152 WOZA members (men and women) appeared in remand court. The Magistrate then set the trial date for November 7, 2006, at the Bulawayo Magistrates Court.
Furthermore, 101 other WOZA members, who were prosecuted for the same charges after having been arrested on September 11, 2006, in Town House, Harare, whilst protesting against poor service delivery in the capital, appeared in remand court in Harare on October 5, 2006. The hearing was then postponed to October 23, 2006, at the Rotten Row Magistrate’s Court.
Action requested :
Please write to the Zimbabwean authorities, urging them to :
- Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of all WOZA and MOZA members, as well as of all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;
- Order the immediate and unconditional release of all WOZA/MOZA activists as their detention is arbitrary;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment against WOZA/MOZA members and all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;
- Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular its article 1 which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and article 12.2, providing that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”, as well as to comply with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in particular articles 9, 10, 11 and 12, which guarantee the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association;
- Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.
- President of Zimbabwe, Mr. Robert G. Mugabe, Office of the President, Private Bag 7700, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 708 211
- Mr. Khembo Mohadi, Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 11th Floor Mukwati Building, Private Bag 7703, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 726 716
- Mr. Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Fax: + 263 4 77 29 99
- Mr. Augustine Chihuri, Police Commissioner, Police Headquarters, P.O. Box 8807, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 253 212 / 728 768 / 726 084
- Mr. Sobuza Gula Ndebele, Attorney-General, Office of the Attorney, PO Box 7714, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax: + 263 4 77 32 47
- Mrs. Chanetsa, Office of the Ombudsman Fax: + 263 4 70 41 19
- Ambassador Mr. Chitsaka Chipaziwa, Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin William Barbey 27, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 758 30 44, Email: email@example.com
- Ambassador Mr. Pununjwe, Embassy of Zimbabwe in Brussels, 11 SQ Josephine Charlotte, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 96 05 / + 32 2 775 65 10, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the embassies of Zimbabwe in your respective country.
Geneva - Paris, December 1, 2006
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
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