Specifically, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are sharply curtailed by the government. In March, six people were convicted of “conspiracy to commit public violence.” Just how did they conspire? They gathered with others last year to watch video footage of the Arab Spring events in Egypt and Tunisia.
Every year on March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day. I have been blessed to know many amazing women in my life: my mom, my sisters, my aunts, my friends. It’s nice there is a day of the year set aside to honor and remember strong, powerful women who make a difference in our world.
Ginetta Sagan was one of those women. Ms. Sagan, once a political prisoner herself, was a fearless and outspoken human rights defender who tirelessly worked to improve the lives of others. Amnesty International USA established a fund in her honor which annually recognizes a woman who, often at great personal risk, dedicates her life to improving the lives of others.
Yesterday, the activists of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets in Bulawayo for the 10th consecutive commemoration of Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know it’s a week early; but in Zimbabwe, when you’re trying to keep the riot police from guessing when your peaceful protests will occur, that’s what you have to do. Unfortunately, their plan didn’t work and co-founder Jenni Williams, along with twelve other people including a pregnant woman and minor, were arrested.
WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) use the occasion of Valentine’s Day to confront governmental policies that violate civil and human rights in Zimbabwe and educate their fellow citizens about issues and what can be done. Frequently, WOZA is met with brutal violence at the hands of the riot police. Jenni has been arrested nearly 50 times.
As Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaign come to a close, I wanted to give a shout out to my friends at Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). They are featured in this year’s event that culminates on International Human Rights Day, December 10th.
Their inclusion this year is especially poignant as WOZA activists Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu will be in court December 12th, facing charges with potentially serious consequences.
Only three months after 18 were killed during peaceful protests in Malawi, five activists were arrested last week. They were holding a peaceful demonstration calling on President wa Mutharika to have a referendum for early elections, the resignation of Police Inspector General Peter Mukhita, and an investigation into his alleged involvement in the death of student activist Robert Chasowa.
Though Malawi rarely receives significant international press coverage for human rights abuses, or much other news for that matter, the government in Malawi has been systematically restricting human rights and taking violent action to suppress criticism.
On October 10th, Zimbabwe went before the United Nations Human Rights Council to answer concerns about the country’s human rights record. One issue Amnesty raised in its submission to the Council is the lingering effects of Operation Murambatsvina.
In 2005, the government of Zimbabwe destroyed homes and businesses in informal settlements, displacing an estimated 700,000 people. This is the same as wiping out the entire city of Columbus, Ohio. Since then, the government has failed to address the needs of these people in any meaningful fashion.
On Wednesday, September 21, activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to commemorate International Day of Peace. Not seeming to appreciate the irony, police officers violently dispersed the protest, arresting 12 women and injuring several others.
Thursday, 10 of those women were released, but Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlongu remain in jail. They are charged with kidnapping and theft pertaining to some sort of bizarre set of circumstances that is beyond my comprehension at this time.
Jenni and Magodonga appeared in court this morning. Bail was denied and their next hearing is scheduled for October 6th. They will remain imprisoned until that time. Jenni recently had a minor operation which could result in serious complications from infection due to the disgusting sanitary conditions in prison. This ridiculous set of circumstances is a direct reflection of elements of the Zimbabwe government attempting to repress political and social dissent.
Labor unions in Swaziland called off a third day of protests after police harassment and arbitrary arrests caused them to fear for the lives of demonstrators. Police used excessive force to disperse protests including firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons into crowds.
On April 11, four key activists were arrested ahead of the announced protests. Those detained were officials from the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), the banned youth organization SWAYOCO and an organizer for the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF). They were released on April 13, and placed under unlawful house arrest.
Mary da Silva, a lawyer and coordinator of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, was arrested and seized while giving an interview to a journalist. “Some people were taken away in big trucks, and they were dumped way out in the bush where there is no transportation,” said Ms. da Silva. “Basically, what they are doing is kidnapping activists.”
In November of last year, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were wrongfully arrested and detained following a peaceful protest in 2008. As a result, their rights and fundamental freedoms were violated and the state failed to protect them from this abuse.
This was a pretty landmark holding and I am so proud of Jenni and Magodonga for standing up for their rights and the rights of all Zimbabweans; for educating people about their rights, encouraging people to demand those rights, and fighting back through peaceful, legal means when those rights are violated. Unfortunately, because of these efforts, Jenni, Magodonga, the other members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) and many other human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are regularly targeted by the police and other government officials.
In February, violence and repression escalated sharply by government actors. Forty-five persons were arrested for gathering to watch video footage of the Egypt and Tunisia uprisings; six continue to face treason charges, punishable by death. Multiple members of WOZA/MOZA have been arrested on the street and in private houses. Both groups of detainees allege torture at the hands of the police. Abel Chikomo, director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is being sought by the police and today was charged with running an illegal organization.
And police have visited the residences of Jenni and Magodonga several times. A human rights lawyer at court representing other WOZA/MOZA detainees was told by police to inform Jenni and Magodonga they should prepare for a long detention…in a men’s prison because they are too strong of women to be contained in the women’s prison. As Jenni pointed out, a perverse sort of compliment.
It’s time for everyone to be equally strong and demand security sector reform in Zimbabwe. It’s time for everyone to be strong and demand Zimbabwe’ unity government guarantor’s take steps to end political violence in Zimbabwe. It’s time to stand strong in solidarity with Jenni and Magodonga and demand police do what the Supreme Court said they must: protect the citizens of Zimbabwe. Help keep Jenni, Magodonga and all Zimbabweans safe from abuse by taking action now!
Lack of access to appropriate prenatal and post-natal care in informal settlements in Zimbabwe is endangering mothers and increasing infant mortality rates. Forced into unsafe dwellings with no heat or running water when the government displaced 700,000 people in 2005, for women in these Zimbabwe communities pregnancy is a scary proposition.
According to Amnesty International research, “Although thousands of people have been living at Hopley for more than five years, there are no maternal or newborn health services in the community. Women often give birth in unhygienic conditions in their plastic shacks and without skilled birth attendants. In order to reach maternal health services, women have to travel to a municipal clinic in the suburb of Glen Norah, about 8km away.”
There is no ambulance service to these communities, forcing women to walk to the clinic while in labor because they cannot afford a taxi or bus. Women frequently give birth at home, unaided and alone. The women Amnesty interviewed stated they were aware of the importance of medical care during pregnancy and after delivery, but due to costs and inaccessibility, they were not able to seek this vital healthcare. Inability to afford healthcare affects 75% of women in the lowest five wealth groups in Zimbabwe, of which most of the residents in these informal settlements fall.
Further, 45% of mothers in Zimbabwe have no access to a postnatal check by a trained health provider. Amnesty International documented the deaths of 21 infants in a six month period in 2010. Adequate living conditions and access to necessary health services after delivery could have prevented many of these deaths.
We need to demand the Zimbabwean government takes care of its women and children. Tell government officials of the importance of providing affordable healthcare, placed in the community. No more women should have to give birth alone and then watch their babies die.