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Zimbabwe: Threat of police beatings and torture for Trade Unionists during ‘stay away’ action

Amnesty International is concerned that activists from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) who will go on a job stay away action on 3 and 4 April 2007 are at risk of being beaten by police and tortured while in police custody. The job “stay away” action was organised to protest government’s failure to address the declining economic situation in Zimbabwe. It is feared that the police will use excessive force to disperse demonstrations organised by the ZCTU as has been in the past.

On 13 March 2007 two ZCTU officers, Gilbert Marembo (m) and Michael Kandukuti (m) were assaulted by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who had arrived at the ZCTU offices with a search warrant allowing them to search for and seize all ‘subversive material’ found on the premises. The officers were from the Law and Order Section of the Criminal Investigations department based at Harare Central police station. The assault was witnessed by lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Police later seized fliers on the job stay away.

Amnesty International has documented several cases in the past when activists exercising their right to peaceful protest have been arrested, detained for prolonged periods and at times tortured. Police often beat peaceful protesters with truncheons, batons and metal bars resulting in victims suffering broken limbs. One of the torture methods often used is called falanga (beating underneath the feet). This torture method leaves the victim with walking difficulties for life.

Background Information

Human rights defenders operate in Zimbabwe under very restrictive conditions. The government of Zimbabwe restricts operations of civil society through repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA). Police deny activists permission to freely exercise their right to peaceful protest.

On 13 September 2006 in Harare, Lovemore Matombo - ZCTU President, Wellington Chibhebhe - ZCTU Secretary General, and Lucia Matibenga - First Vice-President of the ZCTU, were arrested while attempting to engage in peaceful protest about deteriorating social and economic conditions in Zimbabwe. Other ZCTU members were also arrested and detained in Harare, Beitbridge, Bulawayo, Mutare and other urban centres. On the eve of the protests, on 12 September, in an apparent pre-emptive action, police also arrested a number of ZCTU leaders at their homes and offices in Rusape, Gweru, Chinhoyi and Kariba. [AI Index: AFR 46/017/2006]

On 11 March 2007 in Harare, 50 activists from the main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were arrested in Harare after attempting to attend a prayer meeting organised by Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of churches and civic society organisations. The activists, including MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman Lovemore Madhuku were severely tortured while in custody. They were repeatedly denied access to their lawyers as well as medical care.

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