Still Fighting Despite the Odds
For years, government officials in Zimbabwe have misused the law to arbitrarily arrest and detain perceived critics of the President's political party like WOZA.
WOZA promotes civil and human rights for all Zimbabweans and practices strictly peaceful, non-violent mobilization efforts. However, government officials in Zimbabwe misuse the law to arbitrarily arrest and detain perceived critics of the President's political party in an effort to intimidate and suppress these endeavors.
Zimbabweans are expected to soon return to the polls to vote on a new constitution and potentially new presidential and parliamentary elections. The 2008 elections in Zimbabwe were marred with high levels of political violence. Human rights defenders such as WOZA were particularly targeted. Amnesty International is concerned such individuals will again be specifically targeted for abuse.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of WOZA’s annual Valentine’s Day marches. Every year, the members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) specifically utilize the symbolism of Valentine’s to draw attention to issues affecting the lives of Zimbabweans, demonstrating the power of love is greater than the love of power. Since 2003, thousands of WOZA and MOZA activists have taken to the streets on this day to demand their rights. These peaceful protests involve hundreds of participants, singing and dancing while distributing information to the public, often in front of government buildings. Frequently, however, riot police respond with violence; beating and arresting members merely for expressing their constitutional and international rights.
Arrests of WOZA members over the years number in the hundreds. In 2010 alone, at least 186 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) were arrested. Some of those held in police custody were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and denied access to medical care, food and lawyers. Prison conditions in Zimbabwe are horrific, leading to serious deteriorations in health after each incarceration.
The arrests and harassment continued in 2011. In February, March and May, 60 members were arrested at either private residences or during protest marches. Many reported being tortured by police during their detainment. Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, leaders of WOZA, were arrested and held without bail for two weeks in late September. Their arrest was in connection to a WOZA march commemorating the International Day of Peace. Jenni and Magodonga were initially held with 10 other members of the organization. In February 2012, Jenni Williams was arrested for the 40th time commemorating WOZA's 10th anniversary Valentine's march in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
The activists of WOZA struggle everyday to bring positive change to the human rights of the people of Zimbabwe. They urge the government of Zimbabwe to address the civil and political rights of all citizens. Amnesty International USA works to support the efforts of WOZA through solidarity actions and letters, and phone calls to government officials when WOZA members are arrested.