The leaders of one of Zimbabwe's main activist movements have been remanded in custody by the courts in Bulawayo since Friday. Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were arrested on Thursday in Bulawayo after leading a peaceful protest of about 200 activists demanding immediate access to food aid in Zimbabwe.
Police used excessive force to break up the protest. Magodonga Mahlangu was beaten by police during her arrest and is reported to be in pain.
Nine activists were initially arrested, including Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu; seven activists were released on the same day.
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were held at Bulawayo Central police station over night and taken to court on Friday morning. They were denied bail. They will be held in remand prison until Tuesday, when they are set to come to court again.
They have been charged under Section 37 1(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for "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 also expressed fears about the women’s safety while in remand prison, considering the long history of ill-treatment of human rights defenders while in custody in Zimbabwe.
"Amnesty International considers Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu to be prisoners of conscience," said Erwin van der Borght, Director of the Africa Programme. "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.