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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Zimbabwe's women 'face brutality'
Bread price protest in early 2006
Protesters have been vocal about Zimbabwe's economic woes
Women who oppose Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe are suffering increasing violence and repression, a study says.

Amnesty International claims that female demonstrators can be subjected to arbitrary arrest, beatings and in some cases torture in police custody.

The human rights group, which interviewed dozens of activists, urged the country's authorities to "stamp out any discrimination against women".

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe economic crisis.

Shops are running out of even the most basic items and inflation is approaching 5,000%.

Men live on average for 37 years but life expectancy for women is worse at just 34 years - among the lowest in the world.

'Important resource'

Male protesters do face widespread human rights abuses, but female activists quoted in Amnesty's report, Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Women Human Rights Defenders at Risk, described receiving brutal treatment at the hands of the police.

"Detained women human rights defenders have been subjected to sexist verbal attacks, and denied access to food, medical care and access to lawyers," the report said.

Inflation: approaching 5,000%
Unemployment: 80%
4m need food aid
Life expectancy: 37 (men), 34 (women)

"Some have been severely beaten while in police custody, in some instances amounting to torture."

An activist called Irene, from the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, told Amnesty's researchers how she had been arrested eight times.

During a protest in 2006 she said a police officer kicked her in the stomach while she was two months pregnant, causing a miscarriage.

Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Khan, said female activists were an "important resource for the development of Zimbabwe".

"They play a pivotal role in addressing the many human rights challenges the country is facing," she said.

"The government must acknowledge the legitimacy of their work and stamp out any discrimination against women."

African leaders are due to gather in August for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) summit in Zimbabwe.

Ms Khan called on them to "redouble their efforts" to end human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

"SADC leaders should insist that President Mugabe immediately stop the intimidation, ill-treatment, torture and harassment of critics of government policies."

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