HARARE – The ground floor of the filthy Harare Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday was crowded with anxious people wanting information about their relatives and friends, some of whom were viciously beaten up and wounded after they were arrested during last Friday’s anti-government demonstrations.
Many of those crowded in the dark corridors, say they couldn’t afford the daily transport costs from their suburbs to the five storey court complex on the western edge of the city, not far from the site of one of the demonstrations last Friday.
“We have been here for three days now,” said one.
“Since Saturday. We don’t have money for food and for the taxis to bring us here. We don’t know what has happened to our relatives.”
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Lawyers said that more than a dozen people were injured after they were arrested during the demonstration, which turned into a riot.
Policemen dragged them to Zanu PF headquarters and beat some of them very badly.
Jeremiah Bamu, from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said several of those who he says were “abducted” and then beaten or tortured, were in a “critical condition” and should be in hospital.
“Some of them are appearing in court this afternoon with bandages on their heads,” he said.
Gift Siziba, 26, a student at the University of Zimbabwe cannot use either of his hands now.
We suspect bones in both hands are broken.
Most of those who were assaulted after they were detained said they were grabbed from the streets of Harare, or hauled off in buses.
They were handed over later on Friday night to police who locked them up in Harare Central Police Station.
Along with about 50 more who were also arrested last Friday, they appeared in court early Saturday and were remanded and transferred to the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison at the eastern edge of Harare.
“We managed to get some of them treated by private doctors who were allowed in by the prison services,” Bamu said.
Cameraman Simba Jemwa, who was freelancing for Al Jazeera at the Friday demonstration, is among those with post detention injuries.
He has told lawyers he was taken by men in plain clothes to Zanu PF’s headquarters where he says he was assaulted. When he was released into police custody his press accreditation, mobile phone and camera were missing, he told lawyers.
A pregnant woman and two minors were among more than 60 people at the Harare court on Tuesday. Three hours after the court opened, those on remand, who were applying for bail, had not yet been brought upstairs from the basement cells – which are close to a broken sewage pipe.
“We don’t know where the magistrates are today. Maybe they are at a workshop,” said one lawyer.
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A woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Patience, said her brother, a nurse, was arrested at a bus stop in central Harare.
“He was going to get a taxi to work at a clinic at Domboshawa, (north of Harare) when he was arrested. I don’t know if he is ok,” she said. “I don’t know why he was arrested.”
“I was at Allan Wilson (school) with my son-in-law to pick up kids from sports and he was arrested,” said Lilian Munyangadzi. “Why? We don’t know.”
Winnie Donve said she was hungry and worried, and had left her two young children at home, alone, without food, for the third day, hoping to see her husband, Blessing. He takes passport photos in town, at the Copacabana, she said.
This is an area within crowded Chinhoyi Street on the western part of Harare where many vendors have small, make-shift stalls and sell goods, from lap tops to tackies and vehicle spare parts. A small part of this area, known as Copacabana, was heavily looted on Friday and there was a small fire there as well. All had been repaired the following day.
Mhiza Chamunorwa, who sells perfumes in central Harare called his wife, Daisy at 1.30pm, and said he had been arrested.
“We are vendors. All our perfumes are taken now, we have no money for food or rent,” she said outside the court. “We didn’t know about any demonstration.”
The Chamunorwas live in Harare’s older Highfield suburb, where President Robert Mugabe once lived.
Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, said he could not “comment” on “matters which are obvious. No sane person comments on a sun that has ‘obviously risen or set.’”
The demonstrations, legalised by the High Court mid day on Friday, attracted less then 400 people. Many were apparently too frightened to attend as they knew the police would attack them.
Riot police hurled tear gas early in the morning at the small crowd of demonstrators and sent their water canons in to several places where people gathered, waiting for permission to begin marching through the city to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, to protest to alleged bias.
More tear gas was thrown around by the police for a short while after the High Court gave the go ahead for the demonstration.
Then the police withdrew, but remained on the alert around the city. Many streets were blocked off by boulders, cement blocks and bits of concrete to stop police vehicles, protesters said.
The demonstration was called by a coalition of opposition parties, including the main two, the Movement for Democratic Change, and former vice president Joice Mujuru’s People First party.
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Rugare Gumbo, spokesperson for Mujuru’s party said: “Zimbabwe is a police state. That is why our police do what they do.”
Both parties said that they back a national strike called for Wednesday by the #Tajamuka social media site, and will go back to the streets on Friday calling for electoral reform, again.
Lawyers are also preparing documents to serve on Zanu PF about the abductions and assaults of people who were detained last Friday.
“We are under enormous pressure,” said one lawyer.
“We need more of us to cope with so many people who have been arrested and charged.”