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Zimbabwe Court Frees 180 Women


A judge in Zimbabwe has dropped charges against 180 women charged with taking part in anti-government protests. Members of two groups, Women of Zimbabwe Arise and Men of Zimbabwe Arise, had been arrested during a peaceful demonstration in August.

Once again members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise have been released by the state without charge following their anti government protest march three months ago.

This is the eighth time since WOZA - as the group is known - was formed in 2003 that state prosecutors have been unable to make the charge stick.

This time the state said they held a demonstration in a public place with the intent to cause public disorder or a breach of the peace.

The women were arrested in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, after they demanded that the government stop changing the currency. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe struck three zeros off the currency in August and issued new notes. It also launched a three-week campaign of arresting anyone found with more than about $30.

Many people had their money confiscated, and motorists and commuters were constantly stopped at roadblocks and searched by members of the ruling ZANU-PF party's youth militia, who had been recruited by the police.

WOZA National coordinator Jenny Williams said about 20 of its youngest members who were arrested in August were abused in police offices in central Bulawayo.

There was no one from the police in Bulawayo available for comment Tuesday.

Woza has undertaken regular peaceful demonstrations throughout the country since its launch.

Many Woza women have been beaten up and some have been hospitalized. One woman spent several months in a Harare hospital being treated for brain injuries.

Not a single court case against Woza demonstrators has gone into a full trial with judgment. The state has always had to abandon its charges for lack of evidence.

After the last march in February, 63 women went to court 15 times before the case against them was abandoned. Williams said transport to court was costly for Woza members, most of whom are unemployed, and some are suffering from HIV AIDS.

There are regular anti government demonstrations by civil rights activists in Zimbabwe. The last, which took place a week ago, was by members of the National Constitutional Assembly, who were campaigning for a new constitution for Zimbabwe. The leader of the National Constitutional Assembly, Lovemore Madhuku, was arrested and released on bail.

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