Zimbabwe lawyers: Police defy new constitution

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Associated Press

Posted on September 20, 2013 at 1:04 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 20 at 1:30 PM

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — An independent lawyers group said Friday that Zimbabwe's police have already breached the nation's new constitution by breaking up a demonstration by women activists and banning a youth march to mark the United Nations International Peace Day.

The new constitution, adopted ahead of the July elections, guarantees freedoms to demonstrate and gather, said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on Friday.

But on Thursday baton-flailing police dispersed women activists in front of the Harare parliament building who were calling for "peace and development" and action to improve living standards for Zimbabwe's poorest.

The women's group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, or WOZA, said another demonstration on Friday in the second city of Bulawayo was also broken up by police and several members were arrested for questioning.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the offices of a state-controlled newspaper in Bulawayo, the group said in a statement. Police with batons charged women who converged on the police station to demand the release of their colleagues.

Police described the country's current political environment as not "conducive" for a march commemorating the worldwide U.N. peace day, according to youth leaders.

In the United States, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights on Friday criticized what it called the continuing "systematic disregard for human rights and civic activism" in Zimbabwe.

"We urge the international community to directly address his government's crackdown on civic activism," as Mugabe prepares to visit and speak at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York, said Santiago A. Canton, human rights director at the Kennedy center.

"Mugabe must be held accountable for his repeated, though so far seemingly empty, promises to foster peace and tolerance following the country's disputed elections," he said.

Zimbabwe's new constitution, overwhelmingly adopted in a March referendum, requires Mugabe's loyalist police and security services to be impartial after years of accusations that it has targeted his opponents under sweeping security laws used by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to ban rallies and political meetings and stifle the activities of rival political parties.

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