Women of Zimbabwe Arise Hunted by Police

Women of Zimbabwe Arise marching in Harare, Zimbabwe

In the last two days, members of civil rights organization WOZA have been targeted and arrested by police in Zimbabwe. Seven members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) were arrested yesterday at private homes. They were not engaging in any activity in violation of the law, although three are accused of smoking marijuana based on having “black hands.”

One of the women arrested yesterday is a nursing mother who has been denied access to her child. When visited today by family, several of those arrested indicated they were subjected to beatings on the soles of their feet. This is a torture method called falanga and is a common instrument in the torture arsenal of Zimbabwe police.

Today, 14 more women were arrested. Four are WOZA members, the other 10 are not. They were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place was a meeting to contribute $1 to a burial society fund. At this time, not all of these women are accounted for as they have been taken to several different police stations. According to WOZA “police officers, some in full riot gear, visited the homes of another 6 members but they were not home.”

This is clear evidence of the increasing harassment and intimidation of civil society. I also believe the Zimbabwe police are actively hunting for WOZA leadership (but this is my personal opinion so please take it as such). At this time, we are not instituting any action until we have further information but please continue to press President Zuma of South Africa to ensure anticipated voting in Zimbabwe is free, fair and without further violence. I will update with more information when available.

Escalating Political Violence in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Riot Police In City Centre Intersection

[UPDATE: Four WOZA activists, three women and one man, were arrested today at the home of a WOZA member. The charges or reason for the arrests is unknown, other than the continuing harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders.]

Last weekend, a group of individuals in Zimbabwe gathered to watch footage of the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, discuss the impact of these events and speculate what implication they might pose for the African continent as a whole. Instead of a peaceful, academic discussion unfolding, police broke up the meeting and arrested 45 individuals. At least seven of these persons have been beaten while in custody, including Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former opposition parliamentarian. All persons have been charged with treason, a crime punishable by death.

Amnesty International has noted an alarming increase in politically motivated violence, beginning in 2010. While Women of Zimbabwe Arise were able to conduct their annual Valentine’s Day marches this year without interference by riot police, other recent incidents point to a dangerous trend. ZANU-PF, President Mugabe’s political party, is increasingly carrying out violent attacks against supporters of the MDC, the political opposition party. Human Rights Watch reports

“Credible sources from civil society informed Human Rights Watch that in recent months, ZANU-PF youth have attacked scores of people, mainly MDC supporters, in the high-density neighborhoods of Harare, as well as areas outside of Harare such as Chitungwiza, Gutu, and Bikita. Local civil society organizations alleged that the police were arresting the victims of the violence – many of whom are from the MDC – instead of the perpetrators, who they say are mainly from ZANU-PF.”

Escalating violence in rural areas has sent refugees fleeing into Mozambique. President Zuma of South Africa, appointed guardian of the negotiated unity government between ZANU-PF and MDC, is conducting talks relating to expected votes planned for later this year or early next year regarding a constitutional referendum and purported presidential elections. Amnesty USA, in solidarity with WOZA, urged activists to send messages to President Zuma insisting all prospective votes be conducted free of violence and in line with international obligations. It’s not too late. You can still send those messages. Arresting people for watching videos demonstrates those messages are more important than ever.

Vote for Love in Zimbabwe!

Help Zimbabwe Vote for Love this Valentines Day!

I confess-I think Valentines Day is a scam perpetrated by men to buy forgiveness for all the things they mess up the rest of the year by presenting you with bouquet of convenience store flowers. Luckily, the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are far less jaded. Every year they take to the streets on in Zimbabwe on Valentines Day, urging political leaders to remember the power of love is greater than the love of power.

This year, celebrating their ninth year of peaceful protest, 1800 members marched in Bulawayo on Friday-their biggest gathering to date. They sang and danced their way to the offices of the state run newspaper, calling attention to the need for free and open access to the media. This will be particularly important this year as Zimbabwe moves toward a vote on a new constitution and expected Presidential elections. Open access by all candidates to the media is critical in ensuring a free and fair election.

As the WOZA members marched, they passed out Valentines to bystanders with messages regarding constitutional reform. You can help WOZA spread the message about the need for open media access and free and fair elections by sending a Valentine to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma. President Zuma is appointed by regional leaders to supervise Zimbabwe’s negotiated interim government and upcoming elections. Our Valentines urge him to take steps to ensure all votes are free of violence and intimidation.

Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections saw high levels of political violence, with human rights defenders like WOZA, civil society members and political opposition figures particularly targeted. Amnesty is concerned about continuing levels of violence and the great potential for extreme violence to return surrounding any votes. Take action to keep WOZA members and all Zimbabweans safe as they go to the polls. Help Zimbabwe vote for love. Find our Valentine to President Zuma here.

Jenni Williams of WOZA Arrested in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE 10:00: Jenni has been released. Just another effort on the part of the Zimbabwe police to intimidate human rights defenders. Thank you to everyone for standing in solidarity through your phone calls on her behalf. ]

This morning, the 83 activists who spent two nights in jail at Harare Central, were released on bail after being charged with “criminal nuisance.” Jenni Williams, National Coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) met the activists across the street, along with other leadership members, to greet them upon their release. While speaking with the activists to determine who needed medical assistance, police approached the group and demanded Jenni accompany them into the police station.

She is accused of “addressing a gathering” and being held at the Magistrate’s Court until transport can be provided to Harare Central. WOZA has filed suit against members of Zimbabwe’s government over conditions at Harare Central. Jenni and 70 other WOZA activists were arrested and detained at Harare Central in April. Below is information provided in their complaint:

“When they got to the cells, their senses were assaulted by the choking smell of human excreta, and flowing urine of varying colours. Even the beds were covered with human excreta, so they sat and spent the night huddled in the corridors of the cells, as they could not sit inside the cells due to the faeces. However, even the corridor itself had flowing urine and they had to use their own tissues, to clean up the area where they planned to sit on.”

Please call Harare Central and demand that Jenni be released immediately! 011 +263 4 777777

Zimbabwe Irony: WOZA Protest Police Violence, Arrested

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: The 83 activists will remain in custody a second night. They are charged with obstructing traffic. At least that's a new one. And I had just accused the ZRP of being predictable...]

Today is International Day of Peace.  To commemorate the occasion, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets yesterday in Harare and today in Bulawayo. Their mission: raise awareness about the issue of police misconduct in Zimbabwe. In response to the peaceful march, police arrested 83 protestors, almost as if they were trying to help prove WOZA’s point. You’d think the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would get tired of being so predictable.

On Monday, 600 women and men marched in the streets of Harare,  first to Parliament and then on to Harare Central Police Station in solidarity after the initial arrests. The aim of the peaceful protest was to highlight community safety issues and police misconduct. Last month, 250 people in a Harare suburb were forcibly evicted by the police in the middle of the night. Last weekend, violence marred a constitutional consultation session in Harare.

In addition to these recent incidents, WOZA observed police behavior in select communities in Bulawayo and Harare for four months. Below is a sampling of the conduct they observed. Way to keep it classy, ZRP.

“WOZA members observed police officers beating suspects in public; harassing vendors and taking their goods for their own use; demanding and accepting bribes; drinking in uniform in public, and making people under arrest ‘run’ in front of their motor bikes and/or horses to the police station.”

The 83 WOZA members arrested spent last night in cells at Harare Central Police Station and remain there at the time of this posting. Harare Central is super disgusting and WOZA is currently suing the co-Ministers of Home Affairs over the filthy and inhumane conditions. There is also word that a member of MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) was severely beaten while in custody last evening. Fortunately, there are no reported arrests of the 1200 activists who marched in Bulawayo today.

WOZA is asking people to please phone Harare Central Police Station at +263 4 777777 to demand that the activists be released immediately.

WOZA Women Released: 5 nights in hell

We’re relieved to hear that the final four members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have finally been released.

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have collectively been arrested more than 50 times for their peaceful protests, demonstrations and other activities designed to call attention to the grave injustices taking place in Zimbabwe.

But this most recent stint in jail ranks as the most hellish prison conditions that these two veteran activists have seen yet!  Here’s what WOZA is saying about the prison conditions in Zimbabwe.

Needed: One White Colonial Ruler for Zimbabwe

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

As a mostly white person, I have decided that I would like to be the next colonial occupier of Zimbabwe. It’s a great country-fertile land, fabulous people, rich mineral resources. I think I should be able to set up operations fairly quickly and I love to tell people what to do.  So my life’s ambition to be a benevolent dictator will be satisfied far quicker than I ever dreamed possible.

I always thought that to establish said benevolent dictatorship, I would have to buy a private island and import my friends to serve as my minions. So imagine my surprise at reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times last week where he reports that apparently every Zimbabwean he spoke with really wishes Britain, the former colonial power, never left.

In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.

First of all, Mr. Kristoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that foreign journalists have been allowed back into Zimbabwe for nearly a year. While said journalists are advised to operate with caution, and there have still been hiccups, the whole “cloak and dagger/new passport/kids as camouflage” routine was a tad overkill. Things aren’t great in Zimbabwe, but let’s not exaggerate the situation.

Second, Mr. Kristof admits to speaking to no government officials and he “can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.” I’m pretty sure, however, he didn’t bother speaking to any of the members of Zimbabwe’s civil society fighting for changed circumstances. Perhaps the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise  who were arrested today protesting poor service and exhorbitant rates of the electric service. Maybe the lawyers of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who promptly showed up at the police station and secured the release of many of those detained today. How about Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, kidnapped and tortured for her efforts to hold the government accountable for its abuses. I bet every single one of them would gladly step aside and let me take over because I could do the job so much better than they.

I appreciate that Mr. Kristof chose to highlight these remarks as a way to sensationalize the situation in Zimbabwe because he has a job to do selling papers. The rest of his commentary about the West focusing on white farmers at the expense of black laborers, the state of the medical and education system and the need for free and fair elections are all accurate statements. But the reader is initially and predominantly captured by this idea that Zimbabweans feel that if the white people had never given up power, things would all be better, disregarding the thousands of Zimbabweans fighting on their own to improve their country.  

So while Zimbabwe is a bit tattered around the edges, her will is strong and her beauty is evident. So I will gladly resume colonial control and begin my benevolent dictatorship. All the civil society leaders mentioned above and Zimbabweans in general know where to find me when they are ready to cede their struggle. Until then, I will continue my efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and help tell their story without unnecessary dramatic flourishes.

Arrest One of Us in Zimbabwe, Arrest us All!

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: 61 of the 65 members arrested outside ZESA headquarters in Harare earlier today have been released. Four members, Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Celina Madukani, remain in custody and will spend the night in cells. They are being charged with participating in an illegal gathering.]

The leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and seventy other people, including juveniles, were arrested today in Harare following a peaceful march. The peaceful protests were mobilised to put direct pressure on the Zimbabwe electricity authority (ZESA) to provide a more efficient service and fair and affordable billing system.

On Monday, one thousand WOZA members marched in Bulawayo to call attention to the electricity crisis in Zimbabwe. The protesters carried yellow cards, like those given out for penalties in a soccer match, citing poor service and high charges.  ZESA officials locked the doors and refused to come out. I am tempted to call them wusses, but let’s be fair-1,000 people on my doorstep singing and chanting about my terrible service would probably make me lock my door and hide under my desk as well.

Eleven police officers monitored the protest and tailed WOZA leaders Jenni and Mgodonga but no arrests were made and no attempts to halt the protest occurred. However, two WOZA members were arrested and briefly detained the following day at public meetings about ZESA’s high costs. During their interrogation, other police officers insisted the women be released because they also suffered under high electricity costs and said WOZA should be allowed to protest on the matter. See, I told you the police aren’t all bad in Zimbabwe.

When 500 WOZA members marched in Harare today, the ZESA officials there showed as little backbone as their Bulawayo counterparts, and had ZESA security guards insist that the riot police monitoring the protest arrest Jenni and Magodonga, who were trying to get ZESA officials to address the crowd. The police initially refused before giving in to pressure. However, when officers put Jenni and Magodonga into the police van, seventy women and men climbed in with them to arrest themselves. Now, THAT is what I call solidarity!

Unsurprisingly, the jail where WOZA members are being detained does not have electricity. Slightly ironic, no? So we are asking you to call Harare Central Police Station and demand that they release all the WOZA members detained. Tell them to immediately release all WOZA members, who were exercising their rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and international treaties of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. It’s not quite the same as jumping into a police car to arrest yourself, but its the best way that we can act in solidarity with the women and men of Zimbabwe who are fighting for their civil and human rights. Be a global citizen and tell Zimbabwe authorities that if they arrest one person in Zimbabwe fighting for a better life, they must arrest us all!

Harare Central Police Station can be dialed from the US by calling 011 263 477 7777 or 736931 or 725803 or 733033 or 721212. You can also call the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington DC at 202-332-7100.

Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Rockin Out the Valentines For Zimbabwe

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

I had a busy Valentine’s Day writing valentines to 75,000 Zimbabweans and a squadron of anti-riot police. It was quite exhausting. Fortunately, Amnesty’s good friends pitched in to help out-the members of the band State Radio, their uber cool non-profit Calling All Crows and some awesome fans made valentines at concerts and a pre-show action in Atlanta and Birmingham over the weekend.

Valentine’s Day is an important day for the grass roots organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). Founded on that day in 2003 with the mandate “the power of love is greater than the love of power,” it has grown to 75,000 women and men across the country that take to the streets every year in anniversary demonstrations to sing and dance as they march for greater human rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe. These courageous women and men often face the violence of batons as anti-riot police disperse their marches. This year, Amnesty activists stand in solidarity with WOZA by sending valentines to the members showing our support; as well as valentines to the anti-riot police asking them to treat these non-violent activists with respect.

On Saturday, 700 WOZA members marched on the streets of Harare, handing out roses, valentine cards and copies of their new report about the status of democracy in Zimbabwe. Today, 1,000 WOZA members and other Zimbabwe citizens marched in Bulawayo, singing 

“We want to expose this delay in writing our constitution, which will delay our getting our social justice”; “we don’t want the Kariba Draft” and “we need a Bill of Rights that respects us; send me around the country to consult on the constitution as WOZA respects people.”

There was no violence during either demonstration and we thank the Zimbabwe police for showing restraint and allowing free space for civil protest. Even though WOZA’s main Valentine’s marches are over, keep making and sending in those valentines! WOZA will march again many times this year. Sending valentines of support to WOZA does so much to encourage them and keep up morale, knowing the world cares and supports their cause. And it’s equally important to continue sending those valentines to the anti-riot police to remind them to always treat the members of WOZA without violence. Keep up the good work Amnesty activists and special thanks to Chad, Jeb and Matt for all the support from State Radio and Calling All Crows.