Zimbabwe: churches condemn arrests of trade unionists

 The arrests this week of trade unionists in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, have been condemned by churches, trade unions, and human rights organizations. More than 100 trade unionists and civil leaders were arrested on Tuesday, during a demonstration organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to pressurize the government of President Robert Mugabe to reduce taxes ahead of the presentation of the national budget. Organizations that protested at the arrests include the Harare Ecumenical Working Group, Transparency International and the Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference (ZNPC), United Nations and the ZCTU. Media reports said that 52 of those arrested were released on Thursday, on condition that they return to face charges of violating Zimbabwe's strict security laws by holding the demo. In a statement to CISA, the Harare Ecumenical Working Group condemned the detentions and demanded that those arrested be released immediately, saying that the ZCTU Leaders were simply carrying out their legitimate role. "We do not accept any justification for the use of unjust and repressive laws to suppress people's God-given rights," the Ecumenical Group said. "We therefore demand the immediate release of all Trade Union and civic leaders from detention." The Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference said: "The Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference strongly condemns the arrest on Tuesday of ZCTU leaders and other civil society leaders," in a statement, signed by Pastor Joseph Munemo, Secretary of the Conference. The United Nations Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, appealed to the Zimbabwean authorities "to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of the detained persons and to secure their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in accordance with the fundamental principles as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reiterated in the international human rights norms and instruments." In October 2003, the UN also expressed concern regarding the arrest of more than 40 trade unionists during a national protest demonstration. The Harare Ecumenical Group described the harsh economic conditions Zimbabweans are facing: "Both workers and the unemployed in Zimbabwe can no longer feed their families," they said. "The cost of transport to and from work had become unaffordable. Access to the health delivery system has become an illusion for over 70% of the population because of a severe deterioration of such services and due to crippling rate of inflation now at 546%." Source: CISA

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