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Zimbabwe - Magodonga Mahlangu
As human rights defenders we face enormous harassment and risk of arrest in Zimbabwe due to the oppressive laws that the government passes.
On 18 September 2004, I was arrested with 51 others 65km from Harare, after walking 375km in a protest walk against the NGO Bill. We were stopped and arrested by two truckloads of fully armed riot police. We were driven to Selous police station, where upon arrival, I was separated from the others and taken for interrogation. It was around 9am. There were about ten male plain-clothes police who took turns interrogating me. They threatened to deport me to South Africa because they said my name was not Zimbabwean enough, I was insulted and pushed against the wall.
At around 2pm, my lawyers arrived only to be denied access to me. At around 7pm, more police officers arrived. Three male officers searched me. My satchel was turned out, the lining was torn, and its contexts were scattered all over the floor. My pockets were also turned out.
They made me sit on the floor while the interrogation continued. I was so tired that my head was spinning. I think the stress took its toll and I started bleeding even though my period was not due. It was unusually heavy, so within minutes I could feel the blood flowing between my thighs. I had absolutely nothing to use to stop the bleeding. I asked to go to the toilet and they refused. They told me they did not mind even if the blood flowed down my legs, that they are used to seeing real blood and if I were not careful there would be some. Fortunately, I was wearing a pair of black shorts under my long black tracksuit bottoms. I held the shorts tightly on both sides to try and stop it.
My lawyers were allowed access to me at around 10.30pm. I told them about the search, the threats and the need for the toilet and sanitary pads. The lawyer promised to bring pads and food the following morning.
I spent the night on the floor next to a dead, bloody, wild, animal - I was not sure whether the smell of blood was my own or the animal. The Inspector told me he was going to get drunk and beat me up, and he ordered me to get into a truck. The other officers stopped him. He pushed me to the floor and told me that he would make me disappear and no one would question him. Finally, he left.
I was told to try to sleep because very early in the morning the Presidential Guard was coming from Harare especially for me, and they meant business. At 6am they came, and I was taken to a room, where I sat on the floor facing them. The interrogation started and went on for hours. My voice became hoarser and hoarser, until eventually I became voiceless. I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. They shook me and threatened me, but they could not force me to speak.
In the afternoon I was driven to Chegutu Prison and I was relieved to be reunited with my colleagues in a tiny dirty cell. There were 43 of us in a cell meant for eight people. The lawyers came and gave us food and pads. I had been waiting 30 hours. I was more relieved to have the pads than the food
I was detained for four days and three nights in blood stained clothes. I was not allowed to keep the pads in the cell. Everytime I wanted to change, I was escorted by male police officer armed with an AK47 rifle to the charge office 150m away to get the pads then proceed with the armed guard to the toilet.
Meanwhile, the police were searching my house. My fourteen-year old sister watched on helplessly. They told her that I had a death wish and very soon they would grant it to me. I went to court, charged under two sections of POSA; Section 24 for organizing the protest, which if convicted allowed for a minimum of two year in prison, and Section 19 for participating, which carried a minimum of three months.