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abandoned as police beat mothers
Jan Raath, The Times (UK)
July 27, 2007
A group of nursing mothers
were ordered to put down their babies by Zimbabwean police before
being beaten for hours.
The six women
were among 160 people rounded up at the offices of the National
Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation dedicated to
constitutional reform, after activists tried to hold a demonstration.
They were taken to Harare
central police station and told to leave their babies in the corner
of a hall and join other adults lying on their stomachs.
For the next four or
five hours, witnesses say, the infants screamed as police lashed
their mothers and the other adults continuously with metre-long,
heavy rubber sticks.
"We were half men,
half women. There were six women with children. There were grandmummies,"
said a 35-year-old woman in hospital with a suspected broken shoulder.
"We were made to lie down on our stomachs in rows of five or
ten with our hands stretched out in front. All were beaten.
"From about 6pm
to 11pm they were beating us, nonstop, going up and down the rows,
one after another. When one group of police got tired another would
"They trampled on
our bodies with their boots. One of them hit me on my ear with his
hand. Now I cannot hear. They said we wanted to have the country
recolonised by Bush and Blair."
One of the mothers -
a thin, desperate-looking young woman in a worn, soiled red dress
- had not been on the march, but was arrested anyway. Her infant
son, who had been strapped to her back, was struck with a baton
as she was being forced on to the back of a police truck. Still
in shock in hospital yesterday, she was unable to answer questions.
She was given a packet
of powerful painkilling tablets for deep soft-tissue bruising to
her buttocks, back and the back of her thighs. "This is so
perverse it makes me want to vomit," the doctor examining her
and her child said.
Wednesday night's beatings
were the largest mass assault yet carried out by Zimbabwean police.
Violence in March, when Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader,
and about 30 others were beaten for 2 1/2 hours, sparked international
"This time the intensity
was ten times worse," said the NCA chairman, Lovemore Madhuku,
who was among those assaulted in March but was not at the organisation's
offices when the police raided it on Wednesday. The victims yesterday
were so numerous that they had to have beds made for them on the
floors of at least two private hospitals. At a private clinic about
20 were still queueing for attention at 10am, including a scrawny,
elderly woman on her knees babbling prayers.
Among the injuries were
more than 30 skull, hand, arm and rib fractures. Nearly everyone
had widespread deep soft-tissue injuries.
After the March assaults
President Mugabe said that the victims "got what they asked
for". Mr Tsvangirai and the others were arrested on their way
to a prayer rally for peace, which police had been ordered not to
interfere with by the High Court.
The NCA holds "guerrilla"
demonstrations in the face of police brutality so often that they
are scarcely reported on. Almost every week young activists wander
into the city centre in ones and twos and, at a given signal, sprint
through the streets holding banners demanding a new constitution,
dispersing and regrouping with the riot police in pursuit. Inevitably,
several are caught and emerge a few days later, bloodied and battered.
"Yes, you will be beaten up, for sure," Mr Mugabe said
last year after trade union leaders had been assaulted for attempting
to hold a peaceful demonstration in Harare.
All those arrested yesterday
were released later. "We weren't made to pay a fine. There
were no charges," a man who gave his name as Ernest said. "All
they did was take our names. They didn't detain us overnight because
they knew it would be embarrassing to take us all to court."
A woman said that Mr
Madhuku had warned them that if they were caught they could be beaten
up. "I was scared. But I made myself strong. I told myself
if anything happens to me, it will happen to all of us," she
are to break our resolve," Ernest said. "But they have
strengthened it. The more they beat us, the more we realise we have
serious work to do."
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