Zim­bab­wean Ac­tivists Tell of Rights Abuses

Lawyers, Vic­tims Seek Sup­port of U.S.

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Nora Bous­tany

Dozens of women ar­rested at a protest in Zim­babwe were stripped and oth­er­wise bru­tal­ized in an on­go­ing gov­ern­ment crack­down on ac­tivists, ac­cord­ing to Zim­bab­wean hu­man rights lawyers and tor­ture vic­tims who ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton last week for meet­ings with of­fi­cials.

Otto Saki, act­ing di­rec­tor of Zim­babwe Lawyers for Hu­man Rights, said 61 women protest­ing ex­or­bi­tant elec­tric­ity bills and spotty ser­vice were de­tained Wed­nes­day and con­fined to one room at a po­lice sta­tion in Harare, the cap­i­tal.

“They were stripped naked by male po­lice­men and tor­tured. Forty-one of them are still in cus­tody and have to ap­pear in court, while 20 were able to get out on bail,” he said.

The women were ar­rested for what au­thor­i­ties de­scribed as an “un­law­ful gath­er­ing con­ducive to ri­ot­ing and pub­lic dis­or­der,” he said, and lawyers were de­nied ac­cess to them Thurs­day and Fri­day.

Grace Kwin­jeh, a lead­ing ac­tivist with the main op­po­si­tion party, Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change, called the women “coura­geous.”

“It is a tragedy and re­ally sad the way they are us­ing women’s sex­u­al­ity as a tool of re­pres­sion and tor­ture. If the gov­ern­ment is not stopped, Zim­babwe is slowly slip­ping into the dark pe­riod of rapes and vi­o­lence which gripped it in 2000,” she said. The women “go for days with­out elec­tric­ity. . . . In the high-den­sity sub­urbs, moth­ers have not been able to cook for their chil­dren, so they gath­ered in front of the power sta­tion to protest.”

Kwin­jeh was one of dozens of op­po­si­tion mem­bers, in­clud­ing the party leader, Morgan Ts­vangi- rai, ar­rested March 11 and badly beaten by po­lice.

The del­e­ga­tion to Wash­ing­ton also in­cluded Love­more Mad­huku, chair­man of Zim­babwe’s Na­tional Con­sti­tu­tional As­sem­bly; Ja­cob Ma­fume, co­or­di­na­tor of a coali­tion of civil so­ci­ety groups; and Tawanda Mu­tasah, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Open So­ci­ety Ini­tia­tive for South­ern Africa, a private foun­da­tion. They said Thurs­day that they learned about the ar­rests af­ter ar­riv­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

At least 224 Zim­bab­weans have been de­tained, kid­napped or ar­rested since March 11. Be­fore Wed­nes­day’s ar­rests, thirty had been de­nied bail and re­mained in cus­tody for al­leged “ban­ditry, ter­ror­ism and sabotage,” Saki said.

Five of those 30 are crit­i­cally ill be­cause of abu­sive in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques, he said. One of the de­tainees, Paul Mad­zore, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, has told vis­i­tors that he has passed out re­peat­edly and was suf­fer­ing from se­vere headaches.

The four other crit­i­cally ill de­tainees are be­ing held in a prison hospi­tal, and fam­ily mem­bers at­tempt­ing to visit them are ha­rassed by intelligence of­fi­cers, Saki added.

“Their lawyers have been able to check in with them, but now rel­a­tives are afraid of th­ese mem­bers of the intelligence unit in the law and or­der sec­tion of the po­lice,” he said.

Kwin­jeh said the del­e­ga­tion planned to meet with State De­part­ment of­fi­cials and Rep. Don­ald M. Payne (D-N.J.), Rep. Tom Lan­tos (D-Calif.) and Sen. Rus­sell Fein­gold (D-Wis.) or their staffs.

“Fear is not a fac­tor,” Kwin­jeh said about plans to re­turn home this week­end. “We have to stand for free­dom. What we only hope is that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will hear our cries and do some­thing about it.”

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