WOZA and MOZA members arrested in Harare May 28 still in custody

value_our_lives_080528_200×307.jpgA demonstration by WOZA and MOZA members in Harare on Wednesday May 28 resulted in the arrest of 13 women and 1 man, all of whom remain in custody up to today, Monday June 2.  The demonstration was held to commemorate Africa Day, mourning the lack of anything to celebrate,  and to protest against the political violence being perpetrated in the weeks leading up to the Presidential run-off election of June 27.

Approximately 200 members were stopped by the police as they marched in the street in central Harare carrying placards and distributing flyers.  Specific members were targeted for arrest, including Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu.  Three were assaulted during interrogation, but they were not seriously injured.  All were first brought to court on Friday afternoon, several hours after the 48 hour limit, where they were remanded until the following day to make a bail application.  On Saturday they were granted bail by the magistrate, Rusinahama.  Jenni Williams’ bail was set at $10,000,000,000 ($US20) and for the other 13 at $5,000,000,000 ($US10).  All were also to turn in their passports.  However, the prosecutor then announced that the state would appeal against bail, so all 14 were remanded in custody until June 6, 2008.  While the single man is being held at Harare Remand prison, the ladies are all at the women’s remand section of Chikurubi.

All 14 have been charged under s 37 1c (ii) of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (formerly part of the Public Order and Security Act) – “Participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breach of the peace or bigotry”.  This offence involves “acting with one or more others,…. intending or realizing that there is a risk of forcibly disturbing the peace, security or order of the public”.  Some of those arrested were not participating in the demonstration, but were arrested at gun point while inside a vehicle. They included the driver of the vehicle.  The vehicle was seized.

Jenni also has two other charges under the same Act:  s 30  – “Causing disaffection among the Police Force or Defence Forces”.  This charge was leveled as a result of one paragraph of the flyer which was being distributed by the demonstrators.  This paragraph was addressed to the uniformed forces and included the following words:  “We ask them to respect that Zimbabweans have voted for change and refrain from being used to perpetrate violence and to carry out injustices”.  She is likewise charged under s 31 (a) (i)  with “Publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State”.  This charge apparently relates to a flyer from another organisation of which she had one copy in her handbag; however she has been accused of distributing it as well.

It will be noted that all of these sections of the Act infringe on Zimbabweans’ basic right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Declaration of Rights in our constitution.  Similar sections of the notorious Law and Order (Maintenance) Act were previously judged unconstitutional by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court, but they were re-enacted in the Public Order and Security Act.  The constitutionality of these re-enacted sections has yet to be tested in the courts.

All of the detained members of WOZA and MOZA are being visited and taken food and are in good spirits and well.  It is expected that the State’s appeal will be heard before the end of this week, and it is hoped that the appeal will be rejected and the bail conditions  upheld, so that those currently detained can await further developments out of custody.  We salute those brave members of WOZA and MOZA who dare to stand up and make public their concerns about the perilous state in which most Zimbabweans are now living.  May all Zimbabweans be inspired by their actions.