HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Women’s rights groups are calling on Zimbabwe authorities to unconditionally release three female opposition activists arrested – for the third time in less than a year – ostensibly for flouting the country’s lockdown regulations to contain coronavirus. The women say their arrests are part of a victimization campaign meant to silence dissent, but they remain defiant.
The three young women – Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri – appeared in court Saturday, where they were denied bail after their arrest Friday for allegedly holding a gathering in violation of lockdown rules.
The three, members of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, face 10 years in jail if convicted. But Mamombe, also a member of parliament, is defiant and says they are innocent.
“They are trying to silence the voice of young people who are trying to stand up and speak against the injustices that are happening in Zimbabwe. They want to make sure that we are broken, shuttered. This is why they continuously victimize us. We have become a soft target for the state. Maybe because we are young women. But we are not to be silenced by this mere victimization. In actual fact, they do not know what they are creating by this continuous victimization,” Mamombe said.
Zimbabwe prosecutors refused to comment Saturday.
Faiza Mohamed, who heads women’s rights group Equality Now in Africa, is calling for the trio’s release.
“It is part of an ongoing campaign of the state prosecution in Zimbabwe. The three were arrested in May (2020) for attending a peaceful protest in Harare to express legitimate concerns about the widespread food shortages during the pandemic. They were abducted from police custody by suspected state agency and subjected to a horrific physical and sexual assault, which has caused long term mental and physical damage. The government must stop malicious prosecution, free them from police custody, and launch an independent investigation into the brutal attack committed against these women,” Mohamed said.
The three woman were initially arrested for protesting what they saw as the authorities’ failure to provide social protection during COVID-19 lockdowns in Zimbabwe. They were later arrested for allegedly faking their abductions. They are expected to be back in court Monday to appeal their denied bail.