Zimbabwe police torture women activists-report

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 10 (Reuters) Zimbabwean security forces routinely torture and sexually abuse women opposed to President Robert Mugabe's government, a human rights group said today.

''The women endured various forms of torture, including beatings with a variety of instruments ... baton sticks, booted feet, wooden planks, being slapped, and falanga (beatings on the bottom of the feet,'' Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) said in a report.

''Some violations occurred in the street during arrest, whilst others took place in police vehicles and/or in police custody.'' Mugabe has been accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The veteran leader, in power since 1980, denies the allegations and accuses opposition groups of working with Western powers to oust him.

WOZA, which says it has 55,000 members across Zimbabwe, said political threats, unlawful detention and psychological torture occurred frequently. The report was based on a quantitative survey of WOZA members from 2000 to 2007, it said.

''The forced removal of underwear when in custody is recorded separately as it implies threatened sexual violence,'' said WOZA.

''Other forms of degrading and humiliating treatment the women suffered included being forced to kneel or crouch for prolonged periods and being insulted and threatened by police.'' Mugabe has mounted a tough security crackdown as economic turmoil ravages Zimbabwe.

The world's highest inflation rate and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages have forced millions of Zimbabweans to flee to neighbouring countries.

WOZA accused government security forces of taking babies into custody.

''Some of the women are subjected to cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment together with their children, as the police do not separate the mothers and their children when they suffer this treatment,'' it said.

Western diplomats have accused Zimbabwe's neighbours of failing to pressure Mugabe to ease widespread suffering.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between Mugabe and the opposition but Western diplomats say his quiet diplomacy will not work.

''In the current climate there is no redress for the victims within Zimbabwe and state agents continue to act with impunity,'' said WOZA.

REUTERS PD RK1555

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