The six WOZA members—arrested on May 18th for alleged malicious damage to property—have been released on bail ($100 each) with conditions. They were represented by human rights lawyers Kossam Ncube and Godfrey Nyoni. The lawyers confirmed in the court record what we reported on our blog last week–the accused were denied food. Additionally, police officers threatened them with death and disappearance. The police verbally abused the accused calling them prostitutes. Under this duress, five members admitted to the charge. This took place in the absence of their lawyers.
Over the weekend two homes were raided without a search warrant. At the time, no arrests were made. Then, on Tuesday, eight more WOZA members were arrested including a mother and her 3-month-old baby. Lawyers have been deployed.
Yesterday (May 25th, 2011) was Africa Day in Zimbabwe. The electricity was cut for 6-18 hours.
Photo Credit: Sokwanele-Zimbabwe
On Wednesday, May 18th, six WOZA members were arrested for a peaceful protest in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They have been accused of painting messages on the road—messages that read- “power to poor people,” “no lengthy load shedding” and “prepaid meters now!”
For the last five years, WOZA members employed an organizing strategy to end price gouging and corruption by the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC). Extended blackouts and overbilling greatly impact the quality of life of Zimbabweans.
WOZA fears that these six members are being tortured. Their fear is merited. In March 2011, fourteen WOZA members were tortured while in custody. This morning these six women were denied food and access to their lawyers.
WOZA has asked us for help. They would like us to call the Western Commonage police station +263 9 403996 and request to speak with Assistant Inspector Purazeni, the officer-in-charge. The Standard Time difference is GMT +2 hours. When you speak with him ask him to abide by international standards of detention. WOZA has also suggested that we call the Law and Order Department at +263 9 72515 and implore their protection of the basic human rights of these activists.
When Jenni Williams, the co-founder of WOZA, spoke to Spark earlier this year, she told us that flooding the police station with calls is one of the few strategies that can protect her members from certain beatings and torture. A clogged phone line becomes a nuisance and the police release their detainees with greater expediency to avoid the hassle.
Please join Spark in being a nuisance. Tell us how your calls are going and we will continue to provide updates.
Let’s speak up for the women of WOZA.
By SHANNON FARLEY, Spark Executive Director
Early this morning I received a call from a college student in Alabama. For her safety, I will call her Ana. She is spearheading an effort to bring her fellow students to Savannah, Georgia in June to participate in a SlutWalk. SlutWalk was founded earlier this year in Toronto after a local police officer told a crowd of students at Osgoode Hall Law School, “I’m not supposed to say this [but to prevent being sexually assaulted] avoid dressing like sluts.” Two months later, over 3,000 outraged young people took to the streets to protest victim-blaming rhetoric and policies. Since April, Slutwalks have been organized all over the world. This response to sexual violence is resonating with a large community of young people. It is also controversial.
Photo Credit: Pamela Westoby
Ana wasn’t calling about the controversy. She was calling for advice. The Savannah SlutWalk has been postponed—possibly indefinitely—because the young women organizing the event received death threats for their participation. Ana called Spark because she and her fellow organizers still planned to protest and wanted to know how to go about it.
I advised against it. I told Ana that her safety and that of her peers was paramount. If the organizers believed that there was a credible threat, there probably was and it is not worth the sacrifice. I suggested that Ana organize a service day at local rape crisis centers and women’s shelters. She and her peers should pamphlet campus, informing students about SlutWalk, the death threats and their non-violent response. I told her that the threat of violence should not stop the political action but it should shift the strategy. I hung up the phone feeling pretty good.
Then, I got a Google alert about Freedom Riders, a documentary featuring the students who fought to desegregate bus lines in the Southeastern,United States in the summer of 1961. It is premièring tonight on PBS. It is a stunning film—a story that is not well known that happened not long ago. 400 courageous and tenacious young people were vilified, tortured and imprisoned for sitting on a bus. One of the arcs of the film chronicles civil rights leaders begging the students to postpone the second phase of the rides. Robert F. Kennedy sent his staffer John Seigenthaler to convince the riders that certain martyrdom would not achieve racial equality. The students rode the bus anyway. The Freedom Riders were fed up. They would not permit the injustice of Jim Crow to continue. So, they rode the bus. 400 young people changed the face of the country for the better.
This morning I told Ana to think of herself first and the cause second. There is plenty of important work to be done to stop violence against women that won’t compromise her safety. I believe the advice I gave Ana was good, but I don’t know if it was right.
What do you think?
BY SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow
As the protests made headline news, we hoped that they would bode well for women involved in the revolution. So far this is not the case. Women are being excluded from an important and exciting moment in shaping Egypt’s future—drafting the country’s new constitution.
Image: © Ramy Raoof
The news took me by surprise. Women’s strong participation in Egypt’s protests against the Mubarak government alluded to a certain degree of political equality. Yet just weeks later, nearly 300 women marching in Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day were beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob. This incident highlights the crucial importance of protecting women’s rights in Egypt, and the recent exclusion of women in the drafting a new constitution underlines the magnitude of this issue.
These recent events may hinder the ongoing progress towards improving women’s political rights in the country. Back in 1957 Egypt became the first Arab country to elect a woman to parliament. In 2010, the Mubarak government secured 64 parliament seats for women. With the omission of women’s input in drafting the new constitution and the harassment of marchers supporting women’s rights and equality, I fear that women’s rights might be jeopardized in the post-revolutionary Egypt. Of particular concern is maintaining the 64 seats in parliament. Since this legislation was enacted under President Mubarak, it is unclear whether or not the new constitution will preserve this right.
In a region where women’s rights are restricted, the broader implications of these political events are very important. While I watch the future of Egypt unfold, I hope that women are able to preserve their existing political presence and continue to fight for equal rights.
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.