The rest of the posts today will be devoted to International Women’s Day, but I did want to post this very good news about the dropping of charges against the WOZA activists in Zimbabwe since we have been covering that story all week:
The charges against four activists from the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were finally dropped on Thursday after a prosecutor at the Bulawayo Magistrates Court refused to entertain the fresh charges of criminal nuisance that were brought against them this week.
The four, who were arrested last Saturday, were finally brought to court on Thursday after several delaying tactics by police, including changing the charges laid against the group at the last minute on Wednesday. The group had been released from custody on Tuesday night after their refusal to pay ‘admission of guilt’ fines, and were told to present themselves to the Bulawayo Central Police Station on Wednesday morning to be taken to court. But on Wednesday they were informed by the investigating officer, Constable Masawi, that the charges against them were being changed and so the paperwork would need to be “prepared from the beginning.”
The four had already spent four days in deplorable conditions behind bars at the police station, after being arrested along with another 6 members during a WOZA march in the city on Valentines Day last Saturday. The detained activists were all denied access to their lawyers earlier this week but on Tuesday six of the arrested group were released after paying the ‘admission of guilt’ fines. The remaining four were finally released on Tuesday night in what WOZA called a ‘surprising twist’ after the group had refused to bow to intimidation to pay the fines.
All those released have spoken of the horrific conditions they endured, and explained that the cells were filthy with overflowing toilets and on the first night, they were severely overcrowded. The women were also subjected to invasive strip searches every day, while one woman on anti-retroviral treatment had to fight for access to her tablets every day as police tried to deny her access to her life-saving medication – on one occasion, she was actually denied her ARVs. Two of the women have had to seek medical treatment for bad rashes developed from the filthy conditions.
The harassment of WOZA members by police has continued this week, and even while the charges against the four detained activists were being dropped in court, police interrupted a closed meeting of WOZA members on Thursday. Officers from the Law and Order unit refused to leave the meeting that had been called to discuss the state of education in the country, forcing those present to end the meeting, saying their “freedoms of assembly and speech would be curtailed by the presence of police officers.”
WOZA leader Jenni Williams on Thursday told SW Radio Africa other forms of harassment have also continued, including so far unexplained police presences at both Williams and co-leader Magodonga Mahlangu’s homes in recent days. Williams explained that more details about the harassment would be released on Friday. Meanwhile, Williams said the group’s lawyers have compiled papers to pursue legal action against the police, and the individual officers, responsible for the arrest and wrongful detention of their members after Saturday’s march.