Four WOZA Members Arrested Today

Members of WOZA © AP

Members of WOZA © AP

Four members of the Zimbabwe group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested and detained today after taking part in a peaceful demonstration outside of the Meikles hotel in Harare. The WOZA members are believed to have been seriously injured after they were allegedly beaten by police at the demonstration. The arrests and beatings of these human rights defenders occurred while the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, was in Harare on the final day of a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe. Amnesty International has been informed that police accused the WOZA members of demonstrating in front of International visitors in order to embarrass the government and understands that this is why they were arrested. The four WOZA members, who are currently detained at Harare Central police station, have allegedly been denied access to medical care by the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Another demonstration in Bulawayo was was violently broken up by police on Wednesday.

We hope to have ways for people to take action available soon. Meanwhile, read more about the WOZA case and take general action.

No Safe Refuge in Zimbabwe

Today Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise took to the streets of Bulawayo to commemorate World Refugee Day, observed on June 20th. WOZA reports that many of its activits were beaten and arrested today by uniformed police as it attempted to conduct these peaceful demonstrations. WOZA traditionally marks World Refugee Day because they “believe Zimbabweans are refugees in their own country – displaced, unsettled and insecure.”

WOZA used UNHCR’s theme this year, “real people, real needs,” to highlight the plight of Zimbabwe’s informal traders, still the only means of survival for many persons in Zimbabwe with its 90%+ unemployment rate. The marches also convened at the offices of state-owned Chronicle newspaper to highlight issues with media freedom in Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, “they were attacked by uniformed police officers who brutally beat them, arresting many.”

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu already face trial on charges of disturbing the peace for violation of the Public Order and Security Act, an onerous law in Zimbabwe that restricts freedom of association by limiting the ability of people to congregate in groups larger than five persons. Their trial is set to reconvene on July 7th, pending word of an appeal to the Constitutional Court. Many people had the privilege of meeting Jenni and Magi when they visited the US in March to speak at Amnesty’s Annual General Meeting. I don’t know yet if either Jenni or Magi were arrested or harmed in today’s demonstrations. I will update this post when I have more news.

Update from WOZA: “Eight members have been arrested, four women and three men. Three members required medical treatment, including an elderly woman who was pushed to the ground by police causing her mouth to be injured. Once again three plain-clothes police officers tried to locate WOZA leaders Williams and Mahlangu but they were heard saying they could not locate them amongst the dispersing activists.”

"Finding Goodness Where You Least Expect It" – Interview with WOZA Founder Jenni Williams

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Anyone who met Jenni Williams and her colleague Magodonga Mahlangu at AIUSA’s Annual General Meeting this Spring knows what amazing, uncrushable spirits these women have, despite having been jailed, beaten, and threatened repeatedly by Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. But if you weren’t fortunate enough to meet them, or you’d like to get a deeper look into what makes the women of WOZA keep going, check out this great interview with WOZA founder Jenni Williams that was published in the Guardian this past Sunday. She is truly an amazing woman.

Although Jenni and Magodonga expected to have had their trial by now, the trial date has been postponed until July 7th, so they remain in limbo, but they also remain unstoppable!

As Zimbabwe turns 29, statements are not enough

As originally posted on the Daily Kos

In advance of talks with Zimbabwe’s finance minister Tendai Biti next weekend in Washington DC, the World Banks Robert Zoellick shared his assessment of the situation:

Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it succeed. But that is going to require steps by all of the members of the Zimbabwe’s institutions to restore democracy, restore human rights.

Reading these statements I remembered a recent chat with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) Executive Director Frank Donaghue who was in Zimbabwe a few months ago. His explanations and PHR’s report leave no doubt over the gravity of the situation and who is responsible for ruining the country’s economy – and with it its health system:

The health and healthcare crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the Mugabe regime and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights, including the right to participate in government and free elections and egregious failure to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The findings contained in this report show, at a minimum, violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, and work. When examined in the context of 28 years of massive and egregious human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe, they constitute added proof of the commission by the Mugabe regime of crimes against humanity.

At the same conference where I met with PHR, the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) spoke about their human rights activism. WOZA represents some of the country’s most courageous human rights defenders. Compared to them, I feel like a wannabe activist. Harassed several times for their activism, they remain at risk of arbitrary arrest and intimidation. Their commitment and leadership is probably the biggest sign of hope for Zimbabwe, and the least we can do is to show them our support and sympathy, and share their story.

The country’s destroyed health system and the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders are painful reminders how far the country still has to go. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a new report just moments ago, stating that:

If the international community stands back with a wait-and-see attitude, the unity government is likely to fail, and Mugabe and the military establishment will entrench themselves again. There should be no alternative to engagement to address pressing socio-economic needs, reinforce new hope and prevent a return to violence and repression.

Obviously, the ICG focuses on the major players in international politics and ignores that the international community includes all of us. So if you don’t want to wait for national governments or international institutions to make a move, here’s your opportunity.

By Christoph Koettl, Crisis Prevention and Response Campaigner at Amnesty International USA

DISCLAIMER: the opinions written above are the author’s alone and should not be considered official Amnesty International policy.

WOZA Activist Jenni Williams Faces Trial Thursday, March 5

Members of WOZA © AP

Members of WOZA © AP

Jenni Williams, founder and activist in the human rights organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) faces trial next week for her role in a protest on October 16, 2008. Jenni was arrested and detained for “disturbing the peace” even though the protest was a peaceful demonstration demanding that the government provide necessary food aid. Police used excessive force to break up the peaceful protest of over 200 people, and Jenni was arbitrarily arrested with Magodonga Mahlangu, another WOZA activist. After being granted bail and released on November 6, 2008, Jenni’s trial has been postponed three times, leaving her in a legal limbo for months. On Thursday, she goes to trial to determine whether she will be imprisoned again–a pattern for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe as the government tries to silence opposition to its authority. Support Jenni Williams and the WOZA activists in their fight for human rights in Zimbabwe!