Kossam Ncube says the two leaders of the militant Women of Zimbabwe Arise group were arrested Wednesday with 10 other women on a march marking the International Day of Peace in the second city of Bulawayo.
The 10 others were freed Thursday, but a court on Friday ordered the two women to stay in jail until Oct. 6. Ncube says several were assaulted in custody.
He says Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are accused of possessing stolen property at the group's offices, which were raided by police several weeks ago. They deny the charges.
The women were handing out fliers and flowers at the march.
The arrested members are being charged under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The police are accusing them of being “criminal nuisances”. Williams and Magodonga have been falsely charged with the kidnapping the wife of a former employee. The woman called Williams following theft from WOZA offices claiming that she had information on the whereabouts of the stolen property. Fears are rife that these charges being leveled on the two human rights defenders by police officer George Levison Ngwenya have nothing to do with the law. Ngwenya has in the past, been named and shamed by WOZA for his brutal handling of arrested WOZA members and it is believed that it is his way of getting even.
Williams has recently undergone an operation and we have been advised by her doctor that spending any time in a cell so soon after the operation may lead to serious complications.
It is troubling – and ironic – that the government is persecuting people who are seeking to protect and defend the rights of all Zimbabweans. WOZA is guided by non violent principles hence it is disheartening to note that WOZA is always targeted by the police for non violent civil protests.
The planned peaceful demonstration did not take place due to heavy riot police presence around the CBD. Police patrol cars were circling targeted demonstration start off points with ambulances circling targeted areas in anticipation of severe injuries. It is unfortunate that members of the general public were also attacked by the police who were beating just about everyone shouting ‘uraya’ meaning kill in Shona. The pressure group was meant to finally converge at Mhlahlandela government complex and launch their preview report on Transitional Justice to the resident Governor.
According the research findings on Transitional Justice 80% of people said they have personally experienced, or had a close relative experience, human rights abuses. 28% said they had experienced assaults and 26% said they have experienced torture themselves. Alarmingly 54% of the survey population said that they had never heard of Transitional Justice while 42% of the people surveyed said they can never be healed from the human rights abuses they have suffered over the years. Of special interest is the response on who the public thinks is best fit to lead the national healing, reconciliation and integration process in the country, 25% said the churches while 23% said the civil society.
The theme for this year’s celebrations was ‘PEACE AND DEMOCRACY: MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD’. WOZA notes with great concern that the arrests of its members occurred on a day that was meant to celebrate and encourage peace and democracy. WOZA asks: Where is the peace when the general public is beaten? Where is the peace when non violent protesters are beaten? Our voices shall not be silenced.