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ZLHR condemns police abuses in suppressing prayer for peace
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

April 09, 2011

Anti-riot police on Saturday 9 April 2011 violently stormed and suppressed a church service organised to pray for peace in Glen Norah suburb of Harare.

The church service had originally been scheduled for St Peters Kubatana Centre in Highfields, but the venue was changed after police camped in Highfields overnight and sealed off the venue to block people from accessing the grounds.

A truck load of riot police carrying tear gas rifles and truncheons descended on the Nazarene Church in Glen Norah while the service was underway, stormed the church hall during prayer, and dispersed the congregation, which included many church, civic and community leaders.

The police, numbering about 20, assaulted congregants who were inside and outside the church and used tear gas to drive congregants out of the church and eventually out of the volatile suburb.

The police went on to indiscriminately fire tear gas canisters at residences and churches surrounding the venue of the church service. Even children who were within and outside the parameters of the church were affected by the tear smoke and the police clampdown.

The police arrested Pastor Mukome, the Resident Priest at the Nazarene Church, Pastor Isaya and some other congregants.

A team of lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) observed police indiscriminately arresting people walking near the environs of the Church of Nazarene even after they had suppressed the service and hounded congregants out of the suburb.

ZLHR lawyers have been deployed to attend to those who have been arrested.

The service was organised by a coalition of churches under the theme "Saving Zimbabwe . . . .the unfinished journey". The church service was aimed at presenting an opportunity to pray for peace in Zimbabwe as part of the process of finishing the journey to save the country. It was also meant to commemorate the events of the 11 March 2007 Save Zimbabwe Prayer Meeting, where one activist Gift Tandare was shot dead while over 100 political and human rights activists were arrested, tortured and detained through similar heavy-handed police action.

ZLHR unreservedly condemns the events of Saturday 9 April 2011 and the indiscriminate violence meted out by police whose responsibility is to see that fundamental freedoms such as freedom of assembly, expression and worship, are enjoyed by all Zimbabwe citizens. Such criminal behaviour makes a mockery of the SADC Troika Communique, issued in Livingstone on 31 March 2011 in which the Zimbabwe government was warned to immediately end the harassment, arbitrary arrests, intimidation and violence which is currently prevailing in the country. It also calls into question the sincerity of pleas from political players such as Oppah Muchinguri who, only the previous day, urged people to turn to prayer as a contribution to efforts towards national healing and reconciliation.

ZLHR urges restraint by the police, an immediate investigation into the unlawful conduct of the police involved in Saturday's disruptions, and calls for an opening up of space for people to freely assemble, associate and worship rather than the criminalisation of such lawful activities.

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