This Valentine's Day, courageous women in Zimbabwe will be handing out paper roses in the streets.
Jenni Williams, the leader of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), has lost count of how many times she has been arrested-"maybe 37 or 38," she says.
Jenni and her colleague, Magodonga Mahlangu, are only two of the many women who have been arrested, ill-treated, intimidated and harassed for their peaceful human rights work in this southern African country.
Members often give out paper roses during their peaceful marches to symbolize their slogan of love and peace. At a previous Valentine's Day event in Bulawayo, banners proclaimed "The Power of Love can conquer the Love of Power" and women handed out roses to the public. Three of the 53 women arrested had simply been watching. At trial, the prosecutor decided against legal action, and the activists walked free after paying fines.
WOZA was formed in 2003 to defend human rights amidst the political violence in Zimbabwe, and continues their work today by mobilizing to improve living conditions in the country.
Members organize vocal, colourful and peaceful demonstrations to protest government policies that lead to worsening social, economic and human rights situations.
Police even arrest children, women carrying babies and pregnant women. Officers release many without charge, but take advantage of repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Miscellaneous Offences Act to charge some of them.
The government, in an effort to prevent public protest and criticism of its policies, has become increasingly intolerant of the work of human rights defenders and is actively seeking to silence them.
WOZA members will continue by peaceful means to use their freedom to meet together and criticize government policy. Members of Amnesty International around the world are calling for the protection of WOZA members and all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. For information on how to get involved visit amnesty.ca/zimbabwe.