UPDATE - 16TH FEBRUARY 2006
Approximately 150 women remain in custody for a third night in Harare Central Police station. Police remain uncooperative with regard to taking the women to court and continue to exert pressure on them to pay admission of guilt fines. Lawyers are finalising a court application for them to be brought to court tomorrow as they are now illegally detained. One woman has been hospitalised suffering from stomach problems.
It has been problematic to obtain accurate numbers of those in custody and the following has come to light. Firstly police officers have blocked the access of lawyers to their clients. Secondly, it transpires that as women made their way to the demonstration starting point they were 'netted' by the police and council's 'Operation Valentine' and ended up in custody. Those that made it through the net to the starting point conducted the protest and were only arrested as they dispersed. Police acting on an inaccurate tip-off were at the wrong location - Causeway Post Office and had to divert to Parliament; arresting the women outside the Anglican Cathedral. It was only when the protestors got to the police station that they saw their colleagues and heard this news. As lawyers have
had limited access, this news has only come to light as women have been released.
More reports confirming the assault of women by Mhondoro and other police officers have also been received. On Wednesday evening, when Williams was delivering food in the presence of a lawyer, Officer Mhondoro indicated that he had been attempting to contact Williams to dialogue and asked her to visit his office and to come alone (i.e. without a lawyer). He gave her his mobile number +263 11 513 364. This is the same man who has routinely beat WOZA women for the last year.
One of the women released today testified that on Tuesday Mhondoro told women that Williams had been arrested on Monday in Harare and was still in custody and 'had promised to stop demonstrating in Zimbabwe' so all the women should do the same - to which there was a chorus of replies that they were not demonstrating for Williams' rights but for their own rights and would continue to do so!
Williams was in fact in custody in Bulawayo and spent over an hour being 'lectured' about how she should 'dialogue' with police officers. Legal advice is being sought about the safety of Williams to attend these 'dialogue' appointments. Consultations are also being made with the leadership of WOZA as it if they should be taken as genuine attempts to dialogue.
Meanwhile WOZA is inviting activists to send text messages to Officer Mhondoro advising him to cease assaulting innocent women. Friends wishing to offer advice can also email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
A disturbing report has been received from a WOZA woman who had been in custody but who had such bad stomach pains that she paid a fine to be released. She was taken to a doctor and en route gave the following details:
'When Williams and Mahlangu were seen bringing in food yesterday, they asked to be given the food but were told, 'you must know that this is a struggle and learn to starve'. Only some of the women were given food at 11pm last night. Today lunch was not allowed into the police station. The women were also told by police that they preferred to give water to prostitutes and vendors rather than WOZA women. Access to toilets is also being denied. Reports are also being received that several women were assaulted on Tuesday by a PISI officer, Mhondoro, who has beaten WOZA women in custody on several occasions in the past. Some were slapped with an open palm across the face; others were kicked in their sides by booted officers as they sat on the floor in detention. (Names of some of these women are available.) 38 women spent Tuesday night standing in one tiny cell. Those on ARV treatment were unable to take their medication because they were denied food. From 2 to 6pm yesterday, women were made
to sit in the hot sun just out of sheer malice, it seems. Because of these conditions and the
intimidation and pressure being applied by police officers, some women, including those pregnant and with babies, paid admission of guilt fines of $25 000 and were released. These number approximately 30. At 2 pm today police suddenly decided to raise the fine to $250 000 and lawyers are querying if this is legal. A conversation was also overhead by the woman that Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri had called to order the women to be released. A senior female officer was also said to have come to the detention room and in front of women asked the officers why the women were still in custody and demanded that they be accorded their right to be heard in a court of law or
Meanwhile WOZA leaders are pressing the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to submit a court application as the 48 hours time limit has now expired that they are legally allowed to be held.
UPDATE - 15th FEBRUARY 2006
Police in Harare continue to give lawyers the run-around regarding the charges against the women in custody. The Attorney General's office is alleged to have dissuaded the state from proceeding with charges under POSA; so police have switched charges to Section 7 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA) – public nuisance/disturbing the peace charges. As the government has no money to feed prisoners, WOZA has had to buy food for those arrested. The women have been denied this food all day however and at 8pm still had not been given their lunch or supper. Their strategy is to pressure the women into paying admission of guilt fines to get out of the deplorable conditions. Finally the mothers with babies were permitted to pay fines and were released, whilst the
rest look to another night in detention.