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Continued harassment of workers, students, women activists and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
February 16, 2007

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) wishes to express its concern and condemn the on-going harassment of human rights defenders and Zimbabweans through widespread and indiscriminate arrests and detention of individuals and members of legally recognized non-governmental organizations for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed and recognized fundamental rights and freedoms, namely of expression, association and assembly. This week has been characterized by an unprecedented number of arrests and detention of human rights defenders and activists on spurious grounds.

Student Leaders, Harare
On 13 February, 2007 eleven (11) student leaders from Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) were arrested at Harare Polytechnic where they were attempting to hold peaceful consultative meetings with their constituency. The students were detained at Harare Central Police, under the Law and Order Section.

It took the police officers 48 hours to charge eight of the students under the repealed sections of the Miscellaneous Offences Act and these were released after paying admission of guilt fines amounting to Z$250 each. The Miscellaneous Offences Act was repealed by the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act). The fines are therefore a nullity and the detention very much contestable at law. The police officers continue to detain three students, namely Promise Mkwananzi, Maureen Kademaunga and Lawrence Mashungu despite the expiry of the prescribed 48-hour period of detention. These three have been charged for breaching the peace under Section 37(1) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act.) which states that "any person who acting together with one or more other persons present with him or her in any place or at any meeting performs any action, utters any words or distributes or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting, intending thereby to provoke a breach of the peace or realising that there is a risk or possibility that a breach of the peace may be provoked". Students are yet to appear in court

Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Harare
On 13 February 2007 the members of the riot police using tear gas and dogs stopped a march by representatives of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), who were peacefully marching to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Eight women were arrested and detained at Harare Central Police Station. The eight women were charged for breaching the peace, under section 37 (1) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

After spending a day and a half in filthy police cells they were left with no option but to pay admission of guilt fines of Z$250 under a repealed Act to gain their freedom.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Bulawayo
In Bulawayo ZLHR deployed three lawyers to attend to at least 174 members of WOZA, including some thirty four minors, who were arrested and detained, several of them were heavily assaulted by the police after peacefully participating in the Valentine’s Day march. During the process of recording the details of the women, the police in Bulawayo were said to be using video cameras whilst interviewing the women, and insisting the women providing personal details.

As of the 15th of February at least 140 of the women remained in custody, with their lawyers having to make an urgent application to the High Court to secure their release, the 48 hour detention period having expired. During the 48 hours period lawyers experienced untold difficulties in accessing their clients who were being held at various police stations throughout Bulawayo.

Progressive Teachers of Union Zimbabwe Leadership
On the 14th February 2007, police officers apprehended Raymond Majongwe and Macdonald Mangauzani of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ). The two were holding consultative meetings with their members at Haig Park Primary School at the time of their arrest. It was alleged that Raymond and Macdonald had incited teachers to strike after informing them that "a teacher earns ZWD 84,000 monthly and less than 2800 daily which translates numerically to the cost of buying 17 bananas". The police preferred to charge them under section 37(1) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act). After spending a night in custody, by 1130 am on the 15th of February 2007, all paper work was completed and lawyers ready to appear in court, only to be informed that instructions had been received not to take the activists to court but re detain them. This was swiftly and promptly done. Suspiciously around 1820hrs, Raymond and Macdonald were asked to collect their belongings without being informed of their destination, they objected and quickly sent a message to their lawyers, Andrew Makoni and Otto Saki. At 1830 hrs, Otto Saki arrived and was surprised to see that his clients surrounded by 6 unidentified and menacing man in the dimly light corridors of the Law and Order Section.

The investigating officer Detective Constable Muyashu directed Otto Saki to liaise with the officer in Charge Detective Chief Inspector Mavunda, while he accompanied the now released activists to the car park. Unknown to Detective Constable Muyashu, Detective Chief Inspector Mavunda, was a few steps behind and hastily indicated that they were failing to get witnesses to testify in court the following day and would proceed by way of summons. This was obviously not true as witnesses are not required on initial remand. Lawyers immediately whisked their clients away. One of the 6 men was identified as a notorious Central Intelligence Operative who later accosted Raymond and MacDonald all the way to Raymond‘s house.

ZLHR notes with grave concern and strongly condemns the unlawful conduct of the police in violating people’s constitutional rights to liberty as well as freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The events noted above are clear evidence of how the police continue to arbitrarily arrest, intimidate, harass and detain other wise innocent people without regard to their rights 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).

The right to liberty has been stated world over by courts and international agreements to be a special 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 people in cells whose conditions are inhuman and degrading and leaving those detained therein with no option but to pay ‘admission of guilt fines’ to gain their freedom is strongly condemned.

ZLHR wishes to remind the ZRP and the government of Zimbabwe of their obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights of all citizens and to safeguard human rights defenders. The Zimbabwe Constitution, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights as well as numerous other international covenants, to which Zimbabwe is a state party, protect these rights. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights thus calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to;

  • cease the arrest, and detention and victimization of human rights defenders and activists under frivolous charges
  • to guarantee the security and safety of human rights defenders while in custody and when released
  • to acknowledge, appreciate and respect the rights of persons in Zimbabwe to express themselves peacefully on issues that affect their lives and rights
  • to cease the use of arrests, harassment, detention and payment of coerced "admission of guilt fines" to silence and frustrate those who would seek to be heard

It is incumbent upon the government to ensure that the country is not reduced into a police state, if it is not already one, from the evidence on the ground.

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