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Women of Zimbabwe Arise, 5 May 2008

WOZA members beaten in Bulawayo today; at least 12 arrested

Members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise took to the streets of Bulawayo today to call for an end to the politically motivated violence that has left more than 20 people dead in the last few weeks. The protest is also part of WOZA’s participation in the ‘make your vote count’ campaign. Ironically the peaceful protesters were met with brutal violence by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). At least 59 have needed to seek medical attention for injuries caused by baton sticks or being hit by a police vehicle.

The demonstrators had planned to deliver a demand to the High Court that the Chief Election Officer declare Morgan Tsvangirai as president, as the candidate that secured the greatest number of votes, rather than hold a run-off which would only result in more violence.

The group of several hundred had just gathered and began to march when they were violently set upon by two truckloads of riot police who viciously beat people with their baton sticks.

Seven people were arrested after this first attempt, some several blocks away. It is not clear where these seven people are as lawyers have not yet been able to locate them.

An hour the determined members regrouped near St. Mary’s Cathedral and were able to conduct a silent march for four blocks before being intercepted by uniformed police officers one block from the High Court. A discussion took place between the senior officer present and WOZA National Coordinator, Jenni Williams, who was in the process of asking members to disperse peacefully when two truckloads of riot police arrived and once again began beating people.

Riot police from one vehicle disembarked and began indiscriminately beating the crowd whilst a second police vehicle ZRP 3039 M deliberately drove into the back of the crowd injuring many people. As well as the brutal assault on the peaceful protestors, any women in the vicinity were also beaten. Eyewitness accounts include seeing a completely innocent bystander be slapped across the face by a uniformed police officer until she fell to the ground, all the while protesting her innocence.

Amongst those injured was Jenni Williams, who was beaten with baton sticks, both on the street and in a police vehicle (ZRP 2030M) when she was temporarily arrested. She was later released but others were not so lucky. At least four members were observed being arrested but once again lawyers have not been able to ascertain their whereabouts as they were observed being driven to a busy area near Brady Barracks.

There is concern as to the whereabouts of all those who were witnessed being arrested and also as to how they are being treated.

It has also been reported that riot police have been beating any group of women that they come across in town throughout the afternoon. Once again displaying the violent and brutal behaviour that has become synonymous with the ZANU PF regime.

As well as carrying demands for the Chief Elections Officer, WOZA also demanded that the uniformed forces and war veterans refrain from further violence, reminding them that the ‘chefs’ probably will be allowed to cut deals, whilst they will be left to face the justice of the law and the anger of the people.

In the week leading up to Mother’s Day, the peaceful protest was also expected to demonstrate courage to Zimbabweans and show that ‘mothers’ are speaking out and demanding that their vote count and be respected.

More information will be given when it becomes available.

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