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Zimbabwe Authorities Free 11 Women Arrested in Harare & Bulawayo Protests

Authorities in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on Friday released 11 members of the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise arrested in demonstrations this week marking International Refugees Day on grounds that Zimbabweans were like refugees in their own country.

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan had urged authorities to unconditionally free the women, who were arrested in downtown Harare near the hotel in which she was briefing reporters on the findings of an Amnesty mission to the country.

All of the WOZA activists were released Friday afternoon after posting bail in magistrate courts in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, WOZA sources said.

Khan's letter to the charge officer at the Harare Central police station urged the police to act in a manner “consistent with international human rights laws.”

Khan witnessed the beatings and immediately sent the letter to the police, a spokesperson for her organization told VOA. The Amnesty spokesperson said Khan will take up the issue with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai when she meets him in London on Monday.

WOZA leader Magodonga Mahlangu told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe it was a good thing Amnesty officials witnessed rights violations first-hand.

Meanwhile, Harare police apologized for arresting and severely assaulting a photographer for the state-controlled Herald newspaper while he was covering the WOZA demonstration.

Witnesses said riot police assaulted Regis Nyandima while arresting and bundling him into a truck in front of the newspaper's headquarters on Africa Unity Square.

But upon realizing Nyandima worked for the Herald, the police issued an apology which the Herald published on its front page on Friday. The police promised to investigate.

The police apology raised eyebrows as such an expression of regrets has never been issued before when the police have run in reporters covering demonstrations.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists President Mathew Takaona said no journalist should ever be assaulted for doing his or her job, and objected to the Herald's special treatment.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...