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Arrest and assault of women activists
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
April 26, 2007

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human (ZLHR) rights expresses its concern over the recent arrest and torture while in police custody of at least sixty-one (61) women from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). On 23 April 2007 the sixty-one women, residents of Dzivarasekwa and Kuwadzana surburbs in Harare, were staging a peaceful sit-in at ZESA Holdings offices in Kuwadzana when they were arrested by Kuwadzana police at around 1100am. The purpose of the peaceful sit was to hand over a petition to ZESA highlighting their grievances and concerns, including:

  • bad service delivery by ZESA
  • high electricity charges despite some days spent without electricity
  • corruption in ZESA administration

After their arrest the women were taken and detained at Harare Central Police Station under the infamous Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). ZLHR deployed a lawyer who attended at Harare Central Police Station to represent the arrested women. The lawyer attended at the Law and Order Section where he was denied access to his clients. An urgent application was filed with the High Court of Zimbabwe (HCH 1920/07) seeking an order that members of the ZRP Law and Order Section be compelled and bound to give lawyers uninterrupted access to the women human rights defenders.

On 24 April 2007 ZLHR again attended at Harare Central Police Station to try and have access to their clients but were denied the same. At around 1330hrs twenty of the women were released after having been made to pay admission of guilt fines in the amount of Z$2500.00 for allegedly committing the offence of public violence in contravention of "section 17 (1) Public Order and Security Act" (alternatively section 36(1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] The payment of fines remains a way of "buying freedom" and a clear indication of the failure to have a threshold to pursue and sustain criminal prosecutions by the state. It however turned out that the women were severely assaulted and tortured while in police custody and have since been taken to hospital for medical attention.

There remain at least forty-one women still in police custody whom are being denied access to their lawyers, our concern being that they are being subjected to torture and all forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and conditions. ZLHR strongly condemns the continued arrest, harassment, persecution disguised as prosecution, and torture of individuals, groups and associations exercising their constitutionally enshrined rights. The assault and torture of the defenceless women activists while in police custody is a clear indicator of the level of criminality and impunity within law enforcement agents. Indeed the past two months has seen torture at an unprecedented level of detained persons, namely those whose arrests had some political imputations and acts of peaceful protestation. The torture of women who were peacefully demonstrating against an administrative authority to whom they paid their hard earned money for the delivery of services, which services were not being delivered efficiently and thus violating their economic rights is an indication of an increased intolerance and malicious repression of any expression of discontent over the economic melt down in Zimbabwe.

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