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Women's Group Says Members Beaten, Arrested in Zimbabwe After Peaceful Rally

  • Peta Thornycroft

A women's group in Zimbabwe says many of its members were beaten by police in Bulawayo during a peaceful demonstration to raise awareness about violence against women. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from Harare, other groups have reported police force during demonstrations in recent months.

Annie Sibanda, speaking on behalf of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, said hundreds of women were holding a peaceful rally in the central city of Bulawayo on Wednesday to raise awareness about violence against women.

The demonstration was timed to coincide with a U.N.-sponsored campaign encouraging 16 days of activism to campaign for an end to domestic violence against women.

Sibanda said, when the women began reading out a charter they had drafted on social justice, riot police charged, and began beating women and babies indiscriminately, even after the women sat down in the street. Sibanda said several women were trampled on in the chaos.

She said 36 women, including six mothers with babies, spent the night in prison, and about 25 were treated for their injuries. She said at least one woman has a broken leg from the beating.

Police in Bulawayo said they could not confirm any details of events involving the women's group, until documents have been processed.

Meanwhile, 15 Zimbabwe trade unionists have, for the first time, filed a legal case against the government, seeking about $5 million in damages for injuries they say they suffered when they were attacked by police in Harare two months ago.

The unionists were about to begin a small march to protest poverty when they say riot police attacked them. In statements in court when they were released on bail, the unionists said 14 of them were brutally tortured in custody by uniformed policemen.

Earlier this month, a group of activists from the National Constitutional Assembly, a local non-governmental organization campaigning for a new constitution were also brutally beaten in Harare. Film clips of the violence against them show the beatings took place in front of many onlookers in central Harare.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an unprecedented economic decline, and the ruling ZANU-PF party is mired in internal squabbles about who will succeed President Robert Mugabe, if he retires when his present term expires in 2008.

Less than two percent of those arrested under Zimbabwe's security laws for holding illegal demonstrations were prosecuted in court during the last year.