Protect women’s voices in Zimbabwe

Members of the women’s rights organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have repeatedly been arrested while taking part in peaceful demonstrations to protest the social, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in appalling conditions. As a form of punishment for their activism, some of those held in police custody have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and denied access to medical care, food and lawyers. Some recent incidents: 1.    On 28 February 2011, seven members of WOZA and its partner organization Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) were arrested in Bulawayo and reportedly tortured at Bulawayo Central police station before being released on bail two days later, on the condition that they report to police twice a week. 2.    On 1 March 2011, 14 WOZA activists were arrested during various meetings to discuss social issues in Bulawayo. 3.    On 10 May 2011, around 40 WOZA members were beaten by riot police during a peaceful march to protest against poor service and excessive electricity bills by the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).
Apart from these incidents, in September 2010, 83 WOZA and MOZA activists were arrested; 260 women, some carrying babies were arrested in 2005. The women and children were detained overnight in an open-air courtyard, under armed guard, and had to pay a fine in order to be released.
The treatment of WOZA and MOZA members illustrates the Zimbabwean government’s intolerance of peaceful public demonstrations expressing criticism of government policies. It also highlights the malicious use of the law, particularly the combination of the Public Order and Security Act and the Miscellaneous Offences Act, to allow arbitrary arrests and detentions and to facilitate a range of other human rights violations by the police.