Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Police brutality to women in Zimbabwe rife: report

AP , JOHANNESBURG

Women activists in Zimbabwe have been beaten and forced to strip by police and detained with their babies, according to a report alleging violations by security forces by one of Zimbabwe's leading civil rights organizations.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) on Tuesday released results of a preliminary report showing that 73 percent of an initial sample of 397 members have been arrested more than once, 40 percent were tortured and 50 percent detained longer than the maximum 48 hours. About 26 percent were injured badly enough to receive medical treatment.

WOZA, formed in 2003, has become a powerful voice in the deepening economic and political crises in Zimbabwe. It has held more than 100 peaceful protests and is known for its annual Valentine's Day march in which red roses are distributed in a call for love, peace and harmony in the country.

"Women of WOZA have often been the target of unprovoked attacks," said Jenni Williams, one of the founders of the organization.

Williams has been arrested about 30 times has been living in safe houses for the last three years.

Amnesty International as well as human-rights bodies in Zimbabwe have made similar assessments that human and political rights are increasingly under attack in the country.

"These types of violations have become commonplace in Zimbabwe as the government seeks to prevent Zimbabweans from protesting against the continuing devastating mismanagement of the economy, extensive and malicious corruption and a total disregard for the well-being of Zimbabweans," Williams said.

Williams was accompanied by a number of members and a few -- including a 19-year-old woman -- gave an emotional account of their time at the hands of police, often breaking down into tears.

Comment from Zimbabwe police was not immediately available. An official at Zimbabwe's embassy in Pretoria, who would only give his name as P.T. Chigiji, said he could not comment as he had not seen the report.

Williams said the report was done to highlight the violent conditions that still exist despite reports about progress being made in talks with the government.

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