The United States yesterday condemned the heavy handed way police put down protests by members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) this week saying it damaged the reputation of the force.
Report by Blondie Ndebele
Police on Thursday severely assaulted Woza members who were protesting against the arrest of their leader Magodonga Mahlangu in Bulawayo during a peaceful demonstration.
The previous day another Woza peaceful demonstration against the imposition of the draft constitution had been brutally crushed by police in Harare.
Bruce Wharton, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe said the unequal application of the rule of law threatened the country’s stability and prosperity.
“Since November, we have seen elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police engage in a clear pattern of harassment through arbitrary detentions, politically-motivated searches, and arrests on spurious charges against individuals and entities that are operating within the law,” he said in a statement.
“At the same time, the distorted political environment of the past decade has threatened an environment in which sectors of society reject what they see as unjust and unfair laws and therefore act intentionally in violation of the law.”
Wharton added: “Together, these two dynamic threaten to trap Zimbabwe in a counterproductive cycle of instability.”
He said the US was concerned about the increased use of disproportionate force against peaceful protestors in Zimbabwe.
“Undue force against peacefully assembled citizens is never appropriate,” he said “As (US) President (Barack) Obama’s representative here, I am deeply concerned about the pattern of harassment of civil society organisations and the use of violence against civilians.
“That sort of action is terribly damaging to the reputation of the police force, to the society they should serve, and to the wider reputation of a community,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by the United States based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), which expressed concern at the clampdown against civil society.
“The seeming disregard for civic activism in Zimbabwe and the repeated instances of police brutality are very troubling said Santiago A. Canton, the director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Centre in a statement.
“We urge the government of Zimbabwe to respect the basic rights to peaceful assembly and association and respectifully remind President (Robert) Mugabe and Prime Minister (Morgan) Tsvangirai of their public calls for peace and tolerance in the lead up to the elections.”
Local groups also weighed in with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) charging that the police’s reaction to the Woza protests was ‘inappropriate and a sign of insincerity’
“It is also disheartening that this comes a few hours after their behaviour and attitude towards members of the civil society had been discussed in Parliament and the responsible ministry assigned to put to an end to such incidences,” Zimrights said in a statement.
“The government has to stop this kind of behaviour because it is curtailing the operations of NGOs.”
Effie Ncube, the National Association of Non Governmental Organisations chairperson Effie Ncube said the conduct by the police was deplorable.
“An attempt by the police to block such activities is undemocratic,” he said.
“We salute the work done by Woza in fighting for the rights of the people to democracy.”
However, provincial police spokesperson Mandlenkosi Moyo yesterday insisted no Woza leader had been detained despite the women besieging the Bulawayo Central Police state demanding Mahlangu’s release.
“As far as we are concerned in Bulawayo we did not arrest these people and they were not detained,” he said.