On Thursday 19 September, police defied the country’s new constitution by breaking up a demonstration organized by the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and banned a peace march by the opposition MDC-T youths to commemorate International Peace Day. WOZA had organized the demonstration to deliver a raft of demands to the government.
Zimbabwe’s new Constitution guarantees freedom to demonstrate and petition alongside freedom of assembly and association.
Police officers armed with truncheons intercepted some WOZA protestors as they marched on Parliament building in Harare to present their petition calling for improved service delivery in all of the country’s local authorities and demanding an enabling operating environment for civic society organisations.
At Parliament, police arrested WOZA leaders Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlanguand Taurai Nyamanhindi together with freelance journalist Tawanda Karombo, who was accused of taking pictures outside Parliament building. The four were taken to Harare Central Police Station where they were detained for close to three hours.
Williams, Mahlangu and Nyamanhindi were freed without any charges preferred against them after the intervention of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights member lawyer Trust Maandaof Maunga, Maanda and Associates Legal Practitioners. Karombo was also released without any charges being neither preferred against him nor recording of any statements.
At the same time police has banned MDC-T youths from staging a march to commemorate International Day of Peace which will be observed on 21 September 2013.
MDC-T youth leader Solomon Madzore had notified police through a letter of his party’s planned peace march scheduled for today.
But in response to Madzore’s letter, police turned down the notification claiming that the obtaining “environment” is not conducive for such commemorations in yet another kick in the teeth of the country’s new Constitution.
The assault on WOZA members and the ban on the MDC-T youth march were condemned by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and by The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
“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 Mugabe prepares to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, we urge the international community to directly address 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.”