Case History: Magodonga Mahlangu
On 19 September 2013, human rights defenders Ms Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu and Taurai Nyamanhindi were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police during a peaceful demonstration outside the Zimbabwean Parliament. The three leaders were taken to Harare Central Police Station, where they were held for approximately three hours, before being released without any charge
Magodonga Mahlangu is a longtime woman human rights defender in Zimbabwe and a founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA). She has been targeted by the authorities for years, spending many nights in jail, as a result of her human rights work. Woza has organised more than 100 demonstrations in favour of democracy and women's rights in Zimbabwe since it was formed in December 20
On 19 September 2013, human rights defenders Ms Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu and Taurai Nyamanhindi were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police during a peaceful demonstration outside the Zimbabwean Parliament.
The three women are leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a women’s rights organisation with a country-wide membership of over 75,000 women and men. Since its inception in 2003, WOZA has organised multiple campaigns and protests aimed at allowing women to speak out on issues that affect their daily lives.
WOZA organised a peaceful demonstration on 19 September 2013 in Harare with a list of demands for the new government and local councils. Their demands included improvement on service delivery, accountability, job availability, economy recovery, and higher salaries for civil servants. The demonstration was also meant to mark the upcoming International Day of Peace commemorated on 21 September.
As the three WOZA leaders and at least 20 members marched on Zimbabwean Parliament building to present their petition, they were intercepted by police officers armed with truncheons. The three leaders were arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station, where they were held for approximately three hours, before being released without any charges. The demonstration is said not to have lasted long, as police reportedly started to disperse protesters only five minutes after it had begun.
Front Line Defenders is concerned at the arrests of WOZA leaders and the disruption of the organisation's peaceful demonstration, which are directly related to their work in the defence of women’s and human rights. Front Line Defenders sees this as part of an ongoing trend of harassment against women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, in particular members of WOZA.
On 13 and 14 February 2013, peaceful protests held in Harare and Bulawayo by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) in order to mark Valentine's Day were violently suppressed by police, with over 188 protesters arrested and many others beaten. One member of WOZA remains in detention.
WOZA is a women's rights organisation with a country-wide membership of over 75,000 women and men. Since its inception in 2003, it has organised multiple campaigns and protests aimed at allowing women to speak out on issues that affect their daily lives. This is the 11th year WOZA has conducted such protests and this year's theme was “One Love”.
At 4:00 pm on 14 February 2013, members of the Bulawayo branch of WOZA planned to stage a Valentine's Day protest outside the Police Headquarters in 9th venue, at Southampton House. The protesters, numbering approximately 800, demanded that police respond to formal complaints of alleged police beatings during a protest at water shortages on 12 November 2012, and release detained activists.
As protesters approached Southampton house, riot police reportedly intervened and beat several WOZA members. WOZA leaders Ms Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu regrouped the protest and managed to get members to sit down on the pavement so that the protest could get under way.
Police subsequently requested Jenni Williams to enter the Police Headquarters in order to hold a dialogue with the police provincial leadership. After obtaining assurances that the remaining protesters would not be harmed, she and a colleague went upstairs. During the meeting, police stated that a formal letter requesting an appointment should be submitted in order for WOZA to receive follow-up on complaints issued. The meeting ended when Jenni Williams received a telephone call from Magodonga Mahlangu, informing her that 179 protesters had been arrested by the Riot Reaction Police and taken to Bulawayo Central Police station.
The protesters were subsequently released from custody, while a number were reportedly subjected to beatings by police. One WOZA member, Ms Bertha Sibanda, remains in custody on grounds of “indecent exposure”, after she stripped naked in the police station in frustration at not having her complaints addressed. It is reported that six WOZA members had medical attention, one of whom has to have three teeth removed as a result of being beaten by police.
At 2:00 pm on 13 February 2013, members of the Harare branch of WOZA held a peaceful protest by marching towards Parliament buildings in two separate groups, numbering over 1000 people. Riot police who had gathered outside the Parliament disrupted both protests and reportedly fired five canisters of tear gas to disperse the crowd. While protesters ran for cover, many were hit with the tear gas, including over 25 WOZA members, who had to seek medical attention as a result.
Eight WOZA members and human rights defenders Ms Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa, Hilda Murapa, Enia Mazambare, Tambudzai Manangazira, Siphetheni Ndlovu and Maria Majoni, along with one bystander, were arrested and reportedly beaten by riot police during a 20 minute wait for a police van to take them into custody. The nine were released approximately two hours later, and spent another three hours lodging a formal complaint about the arrest, beatings and tear gas. They were then taken to hospital for treatment for injuries sustained.
Prior to the protests, police officers reportedly telephoned several WOZA members offering money in exchange for information on plans of the Valentine's Day protests. Members of WOZA have been repeatedly subjected to judicial harassment, threats, beatings and arrests since WOZA's foundation in 2003. Front Line Defenders has issued several urgent appeals on WOZA, including on 11 July 2012, 28 June 2011 and 27 February 2009.
Front Line Defenders expresses grave concern at the excessive use of force by police at peaceful protests, including arresting and beating large numbers of peaceful protesters. Front Line Defenders believes that the beatings and arrest of WOZA members are directly related to their work in the defence of human rights, in particular their work to follow up on complaints issued to police. Front Line Defenders sees this as part of an ongoing trend of harassment against women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, in particular members of WOZA.
On 18 July 2012, nine members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise are scheduled to appear in court on “criminal nuisance” charges following a peaceful protest organised in early July as part of an ongoing human rights campaign.
On 2 July 2012, the Zimbabwean police arrested the nine defenders and kept them in custody for over two days before they were released on bail by a local court.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) is a women's rights organisation with a country-wide membership of over 75,000 women and men. Since its inception in 2003, it has organised multiple campaigns and protests aimed at allowing Zimbabweans to speak out on issues that affect their daily lives.
The arrests on 2 July were prompted by the writing of messages raising a wide range of issues including those related to social justice, gender equality, separation of powers, public freedoms and education on streets in Bulawayo and Harare. The messages also formulated a number of requests including an explicit call for the dismissal of some Presidential appointees, particularly the Police Commissioner-General Mr Augustine Chihuri, accused by WOZA members of being partisan. The messages were written as part of the “Occupy and Demand the Draft Constitution” Campaign that WOZA launched in May 2012.
The nine WOZA members were all arrested on 2 July between 7:00pm and 11:00pm in different suburbs of Bulawayo. Seven of the defenders were immediately taken to the Western Commonage Police Station where they were detained that night, while the other two who had been arrested a few hours earlier were detained in a location that remained secret until the next morning. The detained defenders complained about the conditions they were held in while in police custody. They reported being denied breakfast, and one of the arrested women defenders, Ms Sibongile Lumbile, had to be rushed to the hospital on 3 July after developing breathing problems. WOZA has blamed Sibongile Lumbile's health issues on having been forced to spend the mid-winter night in a cold place without blankets.
On 3 July 2012, the arrested defenders were formally charged with criminal nuisance under section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Under this act, the defenders face a prison sentence of up to 6 months if found guilty. For unspecified reasons, the defenders were not taken to court until 5 July. On this day, the Western Commonage Court released them on bail and scheduled the next hearing for 18 July 2012.
Members of WOZA have been subjected to harassment, threats, beatings, arrests and trials since WOZA's foundation in 2003. They have always considered the writing of messages as an effective campaign tool and believe their action on 2 July 2012 was within the limits of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Front Line Defenders condemns the arrest, detention and trial of WOZA members and is seriously concerned about the continued judicial harassment against them. Front Line Defenders believes that the criminal charges against WOZA members are solely motivated by their peaceful and legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and their human rights work.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise suffer further violence as part of ongoing pattern of harassment. Charges have been brought against the seven members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), including Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who had been arrested on 6 June 2007 in Bulawayo. They were all subject to ill-treatment while in detention. Take action on behalf women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe
All seven members of WOZA were arrested while conducting a peaceful demonstration on 6 June in Bulawayo. Five of them were released from detention on 8 June and were charged under Section 46 (2v) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which reads: “employs any means whatsoever which are likely materially to interfere with the ordinary comfort, convenience, peace or quiet of the public or any section of the public, or does any act which is likely to create a nuisance or obstruction.”
On 9 June 2007, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were released on bail of $100,000 and remanded until 18 June. They have been charged under Section 46 (2v) and under Section 37 (1a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which reads: “any persons who acts together with one or more other persons present with him or her in any place or at any meeting with the intention or realizing that there is a real risk or possibility of forcibly disturbing the peace, security or order of the public or any section of the public.” They are due to appear in court on 18 June and Jenni Williams has been additionally summoned to appear in court on 23 July and 2 August in relation to arrests in 2004. Their lawyer intends to file a constitutional challenge against the State on the grounds that the charges brought against the women human rights defenders are so vague as to negate any meaning.
Moreover, Front Line is extremely concerned in relation to the ill-treatment of all seven WOZA members while they were in detention. Police officers allegedly threw buckets of water into their cells every day, which meant that the women were forced to sit on cold wet concrete. Both Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are receiving medical treatment as a result of the three days that they were forced to spend in custody. The five other women were reportedly beaten with batons by members of the police.
Members of WOZA are now being targeted with increased aggression. On 11 June 1007, over a hundred members of WOZA attempting to conduct a peaceful demonstration were arrested in Filabusi and were released later that day without charges. WOZA members have increasingly been subject to ill-treatment while in police custody. Since 2003, there have been over ten separate cases where WOZA members have been severely beaten while in police custody after exercising their right to peaceful protest. They have been repeatedly denied access to food, lawyers and medical care. Often mothers are detained with babies for prolonged periods.