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African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release on the Situation in Zimbabwe

The Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Me Reine Alapini-Gansou expresses her profound concern following information she received regarding alleged acts of violence against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

The Special Rapporteur expresses particular concern following reports of alleged acts of violence and harassment on a number of women human rights defenders from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). Some of the victims included, Ms. Jenni Williams, National Coordinator of WOZA and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu another WOZA leader.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the release on bail of Ms. Jenni Williams and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu. Ms. Jenni Williams and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu, may have offered themselves for arrest on 6 June 2007 after around 200 WOZA members decided to undertake a peaceful and silent march through Bulawayo to launch their campaign called “Ten steps to a new Zimbabwe” as well as to express their concern that Zimbabwean civil society was excluded from the ongoing dialogue initiated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) mediated by South African President Mr. Thabo Mbeki.

According to sources it is reported that they were violently dispersed by riot police. Rosemary SibizaAngeline KaruruMartha NcubeSangeliso Dhlamini and Pretty Moyo, five WOZA members who may have been badly beaten with baton sticks, were arrested and detained at Bulawayo Central Police Station. Informed of these facts, another group of around 100 women led by Ms. Jenni Williams allegedly went to the police station and offered themselves for arrest. It is reported that the police officers then assaulted the women, before arresting Ms. Jenni Williams and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu.

The Special Rapporteur also received information that on 9 June 2007, Ms. Jenni Williams and Ms. Magodonga Mahlangu were taken to a magistrate Court and charged with “participating in gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry.” They were then allegedly released on bail of $100,000 each and were remanded to June 18, 2007.

It has been alleged that, after the arrest of the members of WOZA, Mr. Kossam Ncube, a lawyer and member of the Lawyers of Zimbabwe for the Human Rights (ZLHR) , was verbally and physically abused in the police station while wanting to represent the members of WOZA. On 7 June 2007, Mr. Ncube was again allegedly denied access to his clients.

On June 8, 2007, it is alleged that Ms. Rosemary Sibiza , Ms. Angeline Karuru, Ms. Martha Ncube, Ms. Sangeliso Dhlamini and Ms. Pretty Moyo were charged under Section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform). They were taken to court on the same day but finally did not appear before the magistrate, before being released.

The Special Rapporteur expresses profound concern about this serious situation of harassment against Zimbabwean human rights defenders which, if proved right may represent a serious attempt by the authorities to prevent these individuals including Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Angeline Kururu, Martha Ncube, Sangeliso Dhlamini, Pretty Moyo and Rosemary Sibiza from carrying out their legitimate activities as human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur urges the authorities of Zimbabwe to take all necessary measures to guarantee the freedom of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe to carry out their work as human rights defenders and to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders, in particular members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise and Men of Zimbabwe Arise .

The Special Rapporteur also reminds the government of its responsibility under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; with particular reference to Articles 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10.1 and 11and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, with particular reference to Articles 1 and 12.2 . The government of Zimbabwe is also respectfully reminded of its obligations under the Grand Bay and Kigali Declarations and other international human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.