Police in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, lodged charges Thursday against 30 members of the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise and its men’s counterpart who were placed under arrest on Wednesday during a protest in the country's second city.
The activists are charged with “interfering with peace or quiet of the public” under the country's Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, legal sources said. They could face fines or imprisonment for up to six months under the terms of the law.
A lawyer representing the activists, Perpetua Dube, said she had managed to secure the release of six WOZA members, all of them women with babies. But Dube said 34 others remained in custody as of late Thursday.
The activists were arrested during a peaceful demonstration to launch the "people's charter" the group had drafted. WOZA spokeswoman Annie Sibanda said the group will continue trying to hand it to authorities including parliamentarians despite their alleged rough handling by police when they tried to distribute the charter.
WOZA said a group about 40 activists were taken to a drill hall in Bulawayo Central Police Station where they said they were beaten and harassed by police before they were finally released. Sibanda said about 25 activists were seeking medical care.
In a related development, the U.S.-based Peace and Justice Network of Zimbabweans in exile condemned what it described as brutality by the Zimbabwean police.
The group issued a statement saying that the attack on “defenseless women, men and children” showed lawlessness and arrogance by the Harare government and upon the authorities to investigate the alleged violence and bring its perpetrators to justice.