Two leading figures in the Bulawayo-based activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise remained in police custody late Friday despite a call from the U.S. State Department for their release, though five others arrested in protests this week were freed.
WOZA lawyer Kossam Ncube said Jenni Williams, the group's national coordinator, and Magodonga Mahlangu, were scheduled to appear in court Saturday on charges that they organized an illegal demonstration and created a public nuisance.
Williams was honored earlier this year as the recipient of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's 2007 International Women of Courage Award for Africa.
WOZA members released today said they had been beaten by police. But Ncube said Williams and Mahlangu were not hurt. Williams and Mahlangu surrendered themselves to police Wednesday after five members were picked up during a demonstration demanding the group be allowed a voice in South African led crisis talks.
Ncube told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his clients intend to sue the Zimbabwe Republic Police for assault.
In Washington Thursday, a spokesman for the US state department, referring to the detention of the WOZA activists, condemned what he termed the Zimbabwean government’s “violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration.”
Sean McCormack said that in light of reported police threats against Williams, Washington was concerned and held Harare accountable for her safety.
He said the “latest aggression against civil society…highlights the need for dialogue among all stakeholders” to halt Zimbabwe's national crisis. McCormack called on Harare to release those detained and in general to respect the rule of law.