Zimbabwe: Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights beaten and tortured for standing up to the government

Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who have organised and demonstrated against human rights abuses, forced evictions and food shortages in Zimbabwe have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, beatings and in some cases torture in police custody, said Amnesty International in a new report published 25 July

Some Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have been detained with their Children's rights or while pregnant in deplorable conditions that fall far below international human rights standards.

On 29 November 2006, police in Bulawayo used excessive force to disperse more than 200 members of grassroots group Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of Zimbabwe Arise who were participating in a peaceful protest. About 30 police officers in riot gear used brutal force to arrest and scatter the activists, despite the fact that they had all sat down ready to be arrested.

As a result about 25 people were seriously injured and later hospitalised. Among them were a woman and a baby, both of whom suffered broken legs. Around 36 protesters, including six mothers with small babies, were arrested and detained at Bulawayo Central police station.

Amnesty International’s report entitled, ‘Between a rock and a hard place – Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights human rights defenders at risk’, reveals the findings of a three-week research mission where scores of female activists of all ages across Zimbabwe, from both townships and rural areas, were interviewed.

Amnesty International found that Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from both rural and urban areas in Zimbabwe are finding it increasingly difficult to buy food, pay for medical care and earn a living to support their families. The majority of those affected by the government's clampdown on the informal business sector (from 2005) are poor Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, for example those Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights trying to make a living running market stalls, which are not registered and therefore not technically legal, who face repeated harassment and arrest by the police. Read Irene's story

Many Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights activists are not allowed to buy maize from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) simply because they belong to human rights organisations or speak out against discrimination. Clara, a 60-year-old widow in the Masvingo province, spoke out against discrimination in food aid distribution in her village and was accused of being a member of the opposition party (MDC). She was also summoned to the chief’s court where she was charged and convicted of “being disrespectful to men” and fined a goat.

Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have also been subjected to sexist verbal abuse and derogatory accusations aimed at discrediting their character and work. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights activists told Amnesty International that police often accuse them of being used by the British and American governments to overthrow the Zimbabwean government and of being agents of regime change. This is followed by random beatings, with some Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights suffering serious injuries, including broken limbs.

Looking ahead to the next Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) summit which is expected to meet in Zambia in August 2007, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said:

"Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights activists are an important resource for the development of Zimbabwe and must be seen as such by the government. They play a pivotal role in addressing the many human rights challenges the country is facing. The government must acknowledge the legitimacy of their work and stamp out any discrimination against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights.

"Heads of state in the SADC need to redouble their efforts to end human rights violations in Zimbabwe. At their next summit meeting, SADC leaders should insist that President Mugabe immediately stop the intimidation, ill-treatment, torture and harassment of critics of government policies."

Amnesty International delegates made several requests for meetings with government officials to discuss their concerns – both in person and in writing – but were refused an interview on all occasions.

rene’s story

Irene’s family was forcibly evicted from a farm in Matabeleland North province in 2002 during the fast-track land reform programme, when the farm where she lived with her grandfather, a farm labourer, was taken by the government and given to a supporter of the ruling party. The family relocated to Bulawayo. Soon after that, her father died (her mother was already deceased by the time), and Irene was left to fend for herself and six siblings. She became a vegetable vendor in order to earn money to buy food, pay rent and support her siblings’ education. In 2005 her rented home in Bulawayo was destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina, when the government demolished backyard structures without providing alternative shelter for the affected people. She now lives in a single room with all her siblings in a high density suburb in Bulawayo. She finds it increasingly difficult to sell vegetables – her sole source of income – as she and other vendors are repeatedly arrested by the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Bulawayo municipal police. The vendors have their goods confiscated and are at times made to pay fines. She decided to join other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in her community, and takes part in peaceful demonstrations organised by WOZA. Irene has been arrested at least eight times after engaging in peaceful protest as a member of WOZA.
In August 2006 Irene was arrested in Bulawayo during a peaceful march to the offices of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ). The march was organised by WOZA to protest against the abuse of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and the arbitrary seizure of money by police and youth militia at road blocks established by the RBZ and police to enforce the new currency switch. Irene was kicked above the navel by a police officer during the arrest. At the time she was two months pregnant. She was later detained overnight at Bulawayo Central police station, where she noticed that she was bleeding. Other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights protesters detained with her alerted the police officer on night duty that Irene was bleeding and that they feared she could miscarry. The police officer reportedly told the detained Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights that “that would serve her [Irene] right as she was doing things [demonstrating] she should not be doing.” The following morning Irene requested to be given water to clean herself but she was refused. She also asked to be taken to hospital and was reportedly told that she should wait for her lawyer. When the lawyer came she was unable to see him because she had been taken for questioning in another room. The lawyer was not allowed to consult with each of the detained Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights. Only after her release did Irene receive medical care through a private hospital with the assistance of WOZA. She had miscarried so her womb was cleaned and she spent a week in hospital before being discharged.

Zimbabwe: Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights human rights defenders speak out (Windows Media Player)

  • Find out more about Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of Zimbabwe Arise, and take action /li>
  • Take action to stop human rights abuses in Zimbabwe /li>
  • Download Amnesty's report Between a rock and a hard place - Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights human rights defenders at risk (pdf)

View latest press releases