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Zimbabwe: Nine Members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise to face trial for alleged “Criminal Nuisance” following a graffiti painting excercise
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.