Zimbabwe women activists face increasing repression: Amnesty

July 26, 2007 - 0:0

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) -- Zimbabwean women activists fighting the political and economic crises ravaging their country are suffering increasing violence and repression, an Amnesty International report said on Wednesday.

""Women in Zimbabwe are demanding respect and protection for their own human rights and the rights of members of their communities -- often in the face of severe repression, including arbitrary arrest and torture,"" said Amnesty's secretary general Irene Khan in a foreword to the 42-page report. Women quoted in the survey ""Zimbabwe -- between a rock and a hard place -- women rights defenders at risk"" detailed how they had been beaten and denied food while in the custody of President Robert Mugabe's security services. In the midst of an economic meltdown which has seen inflation swell to well beyond 5,000 percent, the report also revealed how women were trying to raise extra money on the black market at the risk of arrest. ""In every location visited by the organization, women were desperately trying to sell their goods, while at the same time trying to avoid being arrested and having their goods confiscated by police,"" read the report. According to the report, women anti-government activists were effectively prevented from buying the maize as a result of discriminatory distribution of the food staple by politicians trying to silence their critics. ""In rural areas local ruling party officials have denied woman human rights defenders access to maize distributed by the government-owned Grain Marketing Board as a punishment for criticizing the government."" Women have often been the victims of police brutality at demonstrations and in police custody. ""Detained women human rights offenders have been subjected to sexist verbal attacks, and denied access to food, medical care and access to lawyers. Some have been severely beaten while in police custody, in some instances amounting to torture,"" read the report. The report cited the case of 64-year-old opposition Movement for Democratic Change member Sekai Holland who was one of the people arrested during a police crackdown on a prayer meeting in March. Holland sustained serious injuries all over her body and claims to have been tortured by police in custody. Amnesty International appealed to the international community to ""publicly express concern about the government of Zimbabwe's failure to prevent, prosecute and punish human rights violations."" The report also called for South African President Thabo Mbeki, appointed to mediate in the Zimbabwe crisis, to ensure an immediate end to harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and torture of human rights defenders