Jenni Williams from WOZA visits Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, UK, September 2007.
© Amnesty International
"I believe that the phone calls to the police in Zimbabwe during my arrest saved me from torture and rape."
Jenni Williams, co-founder of WOZA
The activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are often arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful protests. Amnesty International members’ persistent protests have made the police think twice about ill-treating the women in custody.
The women of WOZA have been repeatedly arrested since 2003 for peacefully demonstrating against Zimbabwe’s worsening social, economic, and human rights situation. They are held in overcrowded cells for anything from a few hours to several days. Police officers have threatened and assaulted them, and prevented them from talking to their lawyers.
When someone from WOZA is arrested, Amnesty International members immediately bombard the police stations where the women are held with demands to release them. This approach is very effective: "Phoning the police, faxing a protest, signing a postcard – all these things make a difference because they send a clear message," says WOZA’s co-founder, Jenni Williams.
"I believe that the phone calls to the police during my arrest saved me from torture and rape. The police station was so swamped with calls that they stopped picking up the phone." WOZA activists say police have told them to "tell your Amnesty friends that we did not ill-treat you".
"Amnesty International is our big sister," says Jenni Williams. "When I’m in prison, if I know that someone, my big sister, is shouting for me, telling people about me, then I feel less distressed, less frightened and less alone. When we began WOZA as a non-violent civil disobedience movement, people thought we were crazy. Civil society didn't want to engage at all before Amnesty International started writing about us. It helped us arrive as human rights defenders."
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