WASHINGTON DC —
Police in Harare on Thursday violently broke up a march by the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and assaulted several activists who were commemorating the International Day of Peace ahead of the official event on Saturday.
The women’s lobby group said it also wanted to hand over a petition of demands to parliament concerning a number of human rights issues. But armed riot police intercepted the march of about 600 women and allegedly severely assaulted them with batons and booted feet.
They also arrested three of the group’s activists, including leaders Jenny Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who were later released without charge and had to seek medical treatment.
Williams said Thursday’s incident shows Zimbabwean police still don’t respect human rights.
Political commentator Dr. Nkululeko Sibanda of Huddersfield University in Britain said the assault of WOZA activists is a sign of heavy handedness that will characterize the Zanu-PF government’s rule in the next five years.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK) condemned the assault on peaceful demonstrators
"The systematic disregard for the rights to peaceful assembly and civic activism in Zimbabwe, as well as the mounting instances of police brutality, are highly alarming," said Santiago A. Canton
, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center.
"As President (Robert) Mugabe prepares to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, we urge the international community to confront his government’s crackdown on civic activism. Mugabe must be held accountable for his repeated, though so far seemingly empty, promises to foster peace and tolerance following the country’s disputed elections.”
The organization further said the government of Zimbabwe has engaged in a systematic crackdown on civil society and the human rights community,
including arbitrary detention of activists and opposition supporters, and widespread violations against freedom of expression and access to information.