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Continued harassment of workers and their families in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
January 19, 2007

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) wishes to bring public attention to the continued suppression of all forms of peaceful protest by Zimbabweans struggling to earn a living which is being carried out by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), a police force sworn to work for the protection of the populace.

Between 13h00-14h00 on the 16th of January 2006, 22 women, the majority of them wives of employees at ZIMASCO mine in Shurugwi, attended at Shurugwi Police Station. They sought that the ZRP allow them, purportedly in terms of POSA, to hold a protest against the extremely low wages of their husbands which had resulted in them living indigent lives. The police details turned down their "application" and the women thus departed. When they were on their way to the bus stop nearby, the police details reportedly came after them and rounded them up. The women were detained overnight and only released the next day after payment of $5 000 each as fines, having been charged under POSA for holding an illegal public demonstration. Some of these women were pregnant and others had with them babies.

ZLHR notes that the conduct of the police details is grossly unlawful and amounts to serious violation of these defenseless women's right to liberty as well as freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The events noted above are clear evidence of how badly POSA violates the rights of persons and how it is being purposefully misinterpreted by the law enforcement authorities for use as a tool of repression. This is contrary to the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

What is especially appalling is that the main rationale behind this attempt by the women to demonstrate was their concern for the well-being of their families. In attempting to express their dissatisfaction at the negation of their socio-economic rights, these women found that they were faced with a situation where they were also stripped of their civil and political rights.

It is also necessary to further condemn the continued use of detention as a harassment technique; circumstances such as this clearly exemplify a situation where detention was wholly unnecessary. The right to liberty has been stated world over by courts and international treaties to be a signal right which must not be taken away with such little thought and concern. Section 13 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe protects this right. Continued detention of women with babies in cells which amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, often on whimsical charges as in the case in point, is a serious violation of human rights. The use of detention, in these conditions, - often forcing payment of admission of guilt fines in order for a detainee to buy her freedom - is wholly condemned.

It is notable that this happened at a time when the Judge President of the High Court was being forced to bemoan the lack of resources being allocated to justice administration. Indeed, it is sad that in the circumstances thus stated, police details find it worth their while to waste time and resources in oppressing persons already crying out from the yoke of poverty, rather than expending such resources on more useful provision of security and justice promotion for the people of Zimbabwe.

ZLHR wishes to remind the ZRP and the government of Zimbabwe of their obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of all citizens and to safeguard the rights and dignity of human rights defenders. The Zimbabwe Constitution, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights as well as numerous other international Covenants to which Zimbabwe is party provide for the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to liberty, an array of socio-economic rights and protection from inhuman and degrading treatment as fundamental human rights necessary for the well-being of society living in dignity.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights thus calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to:

  • cease the arrest, detention and victimization of human rights defenders under frivolous charges,
  • refrain from using the Public Order and Security Act, as well as other pieces of repressive legislation as tools of persecution rather than prosecution,
  • acknowledge, appreciate and respect the rights of persons in Zimbabwe to express themselves in all matters that affect them and their freedom of assembly in doing so and thus immediately cease impeding these rights,
  • cease the use of detention as a harassment technique to stop those who would seek to be heard,
  • cease the detention of women with babies and further ensure that cell conditions are improved from the current state wherein they are demeaning to human dignity,
  • ensure that resources for the administration of justice are not wasted in petty attempts to limit space for human freedoms while justice administration grinds to a halt.

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