Progress Interupted

BY SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

Two weeks ago, Amnesty International requested that Spark remove the name of an upcoming speaker from searchable websites and databases. The speaker is from Zimbabwe, and due to the recent police harassment of political dissidents, her advocacy for human rights has made her a potential target. Spark immediately removed her name and that of her organization from our website, but as Spark members and women around the world unite and participate in various International Women’s Day celebrations, events in Zimbabwe remind us that there is still significant progress to be made.

Here is what happened yesterday in Zimbabwe:

In Bulawayo, police interrupted meetings and marches celebrating International Women’s Day. They detained 16 members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, despite a court order permitting their peaceful demonstration, and a speaker at the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ meeting in the suburbs of the city.  Although the Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khuphe reprimanded police for these actions, contentious arrests like these have populated Zimbabwean headlines for weeks.

In late February, President Robert Mugabe’s police forces interrupted an International Socialist Organization meeting and arrested 45 students, trade unionists and activists for watching BBC and Al Jazeera reports on the protests in Egypt and Tunisia.  The individuals (11 female and 34 male) were arrested on the suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Mugabe government. 39 were released on Monday, but the remaining 6 (1 female and 5 male) now face treason charges in the High Court, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The New York Times reports: “As Mr. Mugabe’s party pushes for elections this year in a drive to reclaim sole power, human rights groups have warned that the police and youth militia aligned with Mr. Mugabe’s party have intensified harassment, beatings and arrests of Mr. Mugabe’s political opponents”.

Such police behavior is alarming and generates particular concern for Zimbabwean women. Women’s Enews reported yesterday on a study outlining the treatment of Zimbabwean women protesters that 78% reported political threats, 64% reported degrading treatment, 42% reported torture and sexual abuse and 33% reported torture.

As we observe International Women’s Day throughout the month of March, we cannot ignore the potential implications of these detentions and must continue to fight for and protect women’s rights – including the basic human right to peaceful demonstration.

Please join Spark in an intimate discussion related to these recent events at its upcoming Speaker Series on March 19, 2011. Our speaker is the founder of a non-violent human rights movement in Zimbabwe and is at the forefront of the struggle for peace and human rights for women and all Zimbabweans.

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