HARARE, Zimbabwe — A women’s activism group said Friday that Zimbabwe police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse Valentine’s Day marchers, herding 195 demonstrators into a police precinct. Later 25 were treated for injuries.
The Women of Zimbabwe Arise leader Jenni Williams said all but one — who was accused of indecent exposure — were released without charge.
The group traditionally marks Valentine’s Day with marches in Harare and the second city of Bulawayo to give out red roses and teddy bears as symbols of peace and love in a nation troubled by years of human rights violations and economic meltdown.
Williams said protesters marched to government buildings to peacefully voice concerns about women’s rights in the proposed new constitution.The group regularly protests social injustices, cost of living increases, and food shortages. Under the nation’s sweeping security laws, public gatherings require police clearance.
Amnesty International said the police action coincided with a government announcement that set March 16 as the date for a referendum on the constitution, followed by elections later this year.
Amnesty’s Southern Africa director Noel Kututwa said continuing attacks by police on Zimbabwean human rights defenders cast doubt on the country’s ability to hold credible polls.