Freedom House condemns arrest of WOZA members
(Freedom House/IFEX) - February 8, 2012 - Freedom House condemns the arrest of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members, including leader Jenni Williams. She was arrested February 6 as she left a meeting with the Joint Operations, Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) — a multi-partisan panel tasked with implementing the country's Global Political Agreement. Williams and fellow WOZA leader Magodonga Mahlangu met with the JOMIC delegation to discuss continuing abuses being committed by the Zimbabwean Republic Police against WOZA members. Concurrent to the meeting, members and supporters of WOZA gathered outside to commemorate the 10th anniversary of WOZA's founding. Williams was immediately apprehended by riot police as she left the JOMIC offices to join the ongoing peaceful demonstration. In all, five WOZA members—and seven bystanders—were arrested despite a Constitutional Court order that grants WOZA the freedom of assembly. Freedom House is concerned by reports of the squalid conditions in which Williams and the other activists are being held and demands she be treated humanely while in custody and afforded continued access to her lawyer. Williams has been arrested nearly 50 times in Zimbabwe and has repeatedly been a target for mistreatment and harassment while in police custody.
State-sponsored political violence in Zimbabwe is a serious and chronic problem. Independent activists, politicians, and supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) continue to suffer from harassment, assault, and arbitrary detention by security forces and militias aligned with ZANU-PF. The nongovernmental sector in Zimbabwe is vibrant and resolute, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have faced increasing legal restrictions and extralegal harassment. WOZA has been a frequent target of Zimbabwean authorities because of their activities addressing crucial human rights issues facing Zimbabwean women, including domestic violence and rape, children's access to food and education, and the rights to assembly and association. The group has called for police to follow standards set out in the Police Act and has fought against corruption in parliament as well as sued the co-Ministers of Home Affairs over inhumane conditions in the Harare Central Police Station. In September 2011, WOZA members were arrested while distributing leaflets and flowers at a demonstration commemorating the International Day of Peace.