By Violet Gonda
15 February 2013
In Mutare last month ZANU PF activist Sheila Mutsenhu took off her clothes in front of the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, protesting the targeted sanctions imposed by western countries. She wasn’t arrested.
But on Thursday Bulawayo police arrested a Women of Zimbabwe Arise activist, Bertha Sibanda, who removed her clothes inside the police station in protest, after she was beaten for taking part in demonstrations by the pressure group.
WOZA leader Jenni Williams told SW Radio Africa that Sibanda was part of a group of over 180 activists who took part in anti police brutality demonstrations in Bulawayo on Valentine’s Day.
“Sibanda is charged with contravening section 132 of the Code; that is publicly exposing herself and being a nuisance,” Williams said.
The WOZA leader said this should have been an offense that attracted nothing more than a fine, but the police are going to keep her in custody over the weekend to punish her.
“Even under the new constitution there is no one who will be kept in custody for longer than 48 hours and they know this but they are just punishing her.”
The group says the Valentine’s Day demonstration was part of their annual ‘One Love’ protests.
Police refused to comment but WOZA says 190 people, including a number of bystanders, were arrested.
“We estimate over 50 members were beaten with the hard rubber baton sticks that the riot reaction group police carry,” read a WOZA statement.
The pressure group is also calling on authorities to provide enough information to members of the public on the new draft constitution, so that people can make informed decisions at the referendum, scheduled for March 16th.
“They only want to give us 30 days to read this very complex document and decide whether we should vote yes or no.” She added: “So we are demanding a proper outreach process so that we have time to read and understand so that we don’t just rush to vote no, as we did before.”
Meanwhile US Ambassador Wharton has said he is very concerned about the unequal application of the law in Zimbabwe.
“In the last few weeks I have observed and thought about one of the challenges that I believe threatens Zimbabwe’s stability and prosperity: unequal application of the rule of law. Since November, we have seen elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police engage in a clear pattern of harassment through arbitrary detentions, politically-motivated searches, and arrests on spurious charges against individuals and entities that are operating within the law.
“The U.S. is committed to a prosperous Zimbabwe which respects the rights of its peoples. As President Obama’s representative here, I am deeply concerned about the pattern of harassment of civil society organizations and the use of violence against civilians by elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police – such as occurred against protestors from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) yesterday in Bulawayo.”