Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 15:23 UK

'Zimbabwe police still harass us'

Woza protest, Zimbabwe, 2006
Woza activists make their voice heard at an earlier demonstration in Bulawayo

Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan has described the human rights situation in Zimbabwe as precarious and says violations are continuing despite the formation of the power-sharing government four month's ago.

On a six-day tour of the country she met activists including those from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza), some of whose members have been beaten and arrested this week.

Woza spokeswoman Annie Sibanda told BBC Network Africa how the police broke up a march in Bulawayo on Wednesday.

Our members traditionally commemorate International Refugee Day (20 June) because we feel that for the last nine years, Zimbabweans have been refugees in our own country.

The people are vulnerable, unsettled, insecure. We don't have adequate access to food, shelter, or personal security - the very things that characterise a refugee.

And therefore, we marched. We demanded that government stop politicking and put people's needs first.

Beaten and arrested

We were able to reach our target - the offices of the state-owned Chronicle newspaper.

But we were attacked by uniformed police officers with batons and viciously beaten.

We did not get permission to march - Woza does not believe in honouring unjust laws
Annie Sibanda,

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Three of us had to go to the clinic for their injuries, including an elderly woman who was pushed to the ground by police causing her mouth to be injured.

In all, 30 people received some form of medical treatment.

But when you are beaten with batons, it's quite often soft tissue bruising that results.

So there's not much doctors can do except give painkillers and put cream on, to alleviate the pain.

We know eight of our members are in custody in Bulawayo police station - four women and four men (Woza now admits male members as well as female).

But the true number could be higher, as some of our members have yet to return home.

We are not sure who the detainees are - our lawyer was denied access to them.

We don't know what charges they are facing, or why they were arrested.

'Unjust laws'

One member was arrested before the protest began but her fellow protestors went ahead anyway, ignoring the plain-clothed officers present.

We did not get permission to march.

Police, Zimbabwe
Police in Zimbabwe are alleged to have beaten protesters

Woza does not believe in honouring unjust laws.

The constitution of Zimbabwe allows for freedom of assembly and expression.

And therefore we take our cue form the constitution, to express ourselves in a peaceful way.

Songs sang by our activists included: "The sun is setting where am I going to sleep? I will sleep like a bird on the trees.

We also sang: "We are filling up other countries - what is wrong?" and "We are going expose police harassment".

When the protest arrived at the Chronicle, our songs changed to: "Men are failing to deal with the issue of the unity government's inability to deliver a better life" and "The Chronicle does not want news!"

Great spectacle

At Woza we have a strategy of multiple simultaneous protests.

A great spectacle was to be witnessed as the processions arrived in waves, coming from different directions.

We demanded the government to stop politicking and put people's needs first
Annie Sabanda,

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

One protest was due to start close to the police station as a test, to see if they would respond with respect.

The leaders of the protest changed the starting point at the last minute.

In a show of courage, they chose to start at the side of the police station, marching right by, turning to go to the appointed route.

Many police officers looked out of windows and came out and shook their heads in amazement.

It is thought that the police van that arrived at the Chronicle offices to beat the peaceful group came from the Central Police Station, meaning that they took over 10 minutes to respond.

Every Zimbabwean

Since the government of national unity began, very little has changed on the ground for the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Whilst some food has appeared on the shelf since we 'dollarised' in February, that is actually meaningless for the majority of Zimbabweans, who don't have access to the foreign currency needed to buy goods.

Informal trader, Zimbabwe
Informal trading is the only way for many to earn a living

They certainly can't afford that food at the price it currently is. So food is as much of an issue as was before.

As for job security - there is none. The majority of Zimbabweans survive on informal trading.

Police are still actively harassing and surrounding informal traders - looting their goods and chasing them on an almost daily basis.

The majority of Zimbabweans don't have the ability to earn their living.

Therefore, they have to leave the country to support their family, or live on handouts form other people.

Being a non-partisan organisation, Woza has members from both Zanu-PF and MDC.

That's because our demands are social justice issues and they affect every single Zimbabwean.

It doesn't matter what side of political spectrum you are on, you still are concerned about health, education, water and housing.

We had thought that since the global political agreement was signed in September last year there would be more freedom of expression and more opportunity for people to express themselves in a peaceful way.

But unfortunately, that has not been the case at all.

One million dollars
Only US dollars and rand are accepted in Zimbabwe now.

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