Breaking news from WOZA â€“ Urgent Appeal
Reports have just come in from Bulawayo that human rights lawyers have been chased away from their clients and have been threatened with assault. We have been asked by lawyers to launch an urgent appeal as before they were chased out of the station, some youth indicated that they were being tortured.
Several people in custody are in urgent need of medical assistance following the beating they received during the arrests. They are being denied treatment.
In Harare, the number of arrests has been confirmed at eight. They are being held in Harare Central. Human rights lawyers were in attendance but have not been able to gain access as police are currently taking the particulars of those arrested.
Please call Bulawayo central on +263 9 72515/ 61706 and demand that lawyers are allowed access to WOZA members and that those that require medical assistance receive it. Please also demand that police stop torturing innocent men and women.
Two thousand members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) took to the streets of Harare and Bulawayo today – a day ahead of Valentineâ€™s Day hoping to catch the police napping. The peaceful protests marked WOZAâ€™s fifth Valentineâ€™s Day procession. At present reports indicate that over 274 men and women and 20 babies are in police custody in Bulawayo and about 10 women in Harare. The Bulawayo protesters were arrested with real-life images of Presidents Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, who were about to be presented with copies of the Peopleâ€™s Charter in a ceremony outside the state-owned Chronicle.Several prominent civic leaders were present at the demonstrations, including Dr Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly.In Bulawayo, a heavy police presence indicated that police were expecting WOZA and the protest had to start under the nose of uniformed and plain-clothed police. Riot police swooped towards the end of the protest at the offices of the Chronicle and brutally beat up members. It is estimated that over 1,000 women and men marched three blocks through Bulawayo handing out Valentineâ€™s cards, red roses and copies of the Peopleâ€™s Charter to passersby.Lawyers have been deployed to attend to those in custody and attempt to get in medical attention to those who need it. The walking wounded that were not arrested are currently receiving medical attention.In Harare, the protest started with a handing over of a letter to representatives of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) asking them to assist Zimbabweans in getting political leaders to deliver the Peopleâ€™s Charter. The UNDP offices was where the first Valentineâ€™s protest took place five years ago when WOZA named then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, as their Valentine.WOZA activists affixed three real-life images of Presidents Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara to the wall outside Takura House. Copies of the Peopleâ€™s Charter were then figuratively â€˜handed overâ€™ to the Presidents – symbolizing the need for responsible leaders to deliver social justice.
The peaceful demonstration then moved on to Parliament, singing in Shona, â€˜your term is up â€“ you have stayed too longâ€™. As the group neared the entrance, riot police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. Initially the crowd retreated but then bravely regrouped, stood their ground and threw back the tear gas canisters; hitting the Parliament walls and sending those watching from the parliament balcony scurrying back into the building. The group, which included many leaders, sat down to await arrest but found police only interested in firing tear gas. The song then changed to â€˜police do not harass usâ€™. Eventually leaders decided to declare a victory and disperse.
As they dispersed, the activists continued to toyi toyi (fast march/dance) into Sam Nujoma St, past the Herald offices into First Street. The protest was then officially dispersed outside the police post in First Street. In spite of this, a group of several hundred continued to toyi toyi towards the Zanu PF offices but were blocked at Chinhoi Street by riot police with dogs. Several members were arrested at the scene but it is unclear if there any members were attacked by the police dogs. Eight members were arrested in Kwame Nkrumah Street near the UN offices.
WOZA would like to dedicate this day to the contribution of Zimbabwean activists to a non-violent struggle for social justice â€“ we salute your non-violent discipline and spirit of love. We call on the state-owned Chronicle and Herald to honestly cover the events that occurred right on their doorsteps in honour of journalist ethics. To the Zimbabwe Republic Police we say â€“ your children will also one day enjoy the social justice we fight for. Aluta Continua â€“ Woza Moya!