The detention of two activists from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) has been extended until Friday. A bail hearing in the case was held on Tuesday without them being present, after the state alleged that there was no transport available to take them to the court.
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were arrested on 16 October and are being held at Bulawayo Remand Prison. They were arbitrarily arrested after participating in a peaceful protest outside Mhlahlandlela Government Complex in Bulawayo, in which they demanded immediate access to food aid in Zimbabwe.
Police used excessive force to break up the peaceful protest by about 200 WOZA activists. Magodonga Mahlangu was beaten by police during her arrest and is reported to be in pain.
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were unlawfully detained at Bulawayo Central police station overnight before being moved to the remand prison on 17 October. The Magistrate Court in Bulawayo remanded the two women in custody until Tuesday, when the bail hearing took place in their absence.
The court then reserved judgement on the bail application until Friday, 24 October. They have been charged under Section 37 1(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – "disturbing the peace, security or order of the public."
Amnesty International has urged the Zimbabwean authorities to release Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, immediately and unconditionally, as they have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of association and assembly. The organisation warned that they are at risk of torture and ill-treatment, considering the long history of ill-treatment of human rights defenders while in custody in Zimbabwe.
"Human rights defenders in Zimbabwe have been repeatedly tortured, ill-treated, harassed and intimidated while in custody," said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme. "They have also been denied access to their lawyers, families, adequate food, warm blankets and medical care as well as sanitary products for women. WOZA members have been ill-treated before while in custody.
"Amnesty International considers Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu to be prisoners of conscience. Their arrest is part of the government of Zimbabwe’s clampdown on human rights defenders who are campaigning to highlight the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe."
Jenni Williams and Magadonga Mahlangu were last arrested in May 2008, and spent 37 days in remand prison.