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Women in Zimbabwe allegedly raped by soldiers ‘as punishment’ for joining protests

A local NGO said it had nine confirmed cases of women from Harare’s townships who have sought medical help.

Kathleen Ndongmo

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A rape survivor wrings her hands as she relates how she was abused by soldiers at her home - AFP

A 33-year-old Zimbabwean unemployed mother of two tearfully narrates how four men in military uniform ordered her to open her door at midnight before two of them raped her.

On January 17, the men forced their way into her house in a poor township on the outskirts of Harare and searched the property to check she was alone.  

“One of them ordered me to lie on the bed, then he raped me. A second one raped me. The other two, holding firearms, just stood there,” the woman told AFP.

“After these people finished, I just sat on my bed and cried. Then around 4:00 am, I went to wake up my landlord’s daughter and told her what had happened. I stayed in her room until sunrise.”

Several women have sought help in the Zimbabwean capital, saying they were raped by soldiers and police who have enforced a brutal crackdown to crush public unrest after violent nationwide protests on January 14 over fuel price rises.

Justice for Women’s Rights Zimbabwe, a local NGO, said it had nine confirmed cases of women from Harare’s townships who have sought medical help. All were too scared to go to the police.

“The women just do not trust the system,” said Karen Mukwazi, an activist with the NGO.

“One woman simply said after they (the assailants) left, she went to bath and waited for her husband. There are more women out there who just decided to take a bath and try to forget it (but) you cannot forget rape,” she said.

Another woman told the NGO that she had kept her assault a secret from her husband.

  • Where to go for help? –
    “We live in a society that blames the victim especially when it comes to the issue of sexual violence,” said Talent Jumo, director of Katswe-Sistahood, a Harare sexual rights clinic.

“In this case it’s even more complex because the alleged perpetrators belong to the same institutions where the victim are actually supposed to run to for refuge, for support.”

Zimbabwean authorities have promised that police will treat women with respect, saying each police station has a female-led unit to record allegations.

“All affected women will be treated with empathy,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, adding that the government “won’t accept any criminal behaviour by any member of society particularly those in positions of trust.”

The army and police have denied any misconduct and said some criminal gangs may have stolen uniforms to commit abuses.

The rape allegations have heightened international anger over the security crackdown, which has damaged President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s claims to have opened a new chapter for Zimbabwe after the repression and state violence of his successor Robert Mugabe.

“Political and sexual violence is unjust,” the US embassy said in a statement. “We support rape survivors and urge authorities to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

On Wednesday, some women in Harare wore black as a public protest against rapes and called for the new independent system be set up to handle complaints.

Rita Nyamupinga, a veteran gender activist in Zimbabwe, bemoaned that soldiers and police had targeted their own citizens.

“These are people who are supposed to give protection to the citizens of their country – regardless of where they are coming from, politically, socially,” she said.

At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds injured, with 78 people sustaining gunshot wounds, in the crackdown.

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people, including opposition lawmakers, trade unionists and some children.

The rape victim who spoke to AFP said she was hoping to soon receive some medical care.

“It’s painful that these are the people who are supposed to protect us and they do such an act,” she said. “But there’s nothing we can do”.

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Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa

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DR Congo's health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga. (AFP)

Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.

He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.

It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.

He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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Telemedicine revolution saving lives in Ivory Coast

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

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Telemedicine revolution in saving lives in Ivory Coast

Every time Catherine Coulibaly’s 19-year-old son had to make a routine appointment with the cardiologist for his heart condition, she gritted her teeth as she silently counted the financial cost.

It wasn’t just the hospital fee — there was the transport, food and accommodation, too, all of it amounting to a hefty burden for an Ivorian family on a modest income.

But thanks to telemedicine – consultations that doctors conduct through the internet or by phone – this cost is now a fading memory. 

Her son can book an appointment at a telemedicine facility in a nearby town in northern Ivory Coast.

There, he is attached to monitoring machines which send the data sent to Bouake University Hospital in the centre of the country, where it is scrutinised by a heart doctor.

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

Ivory Coast has become an African testbed for it, thanks to a project linking the Bouake hospital’s cardiac department with health centres in several northern towns, some of which are a four-hour drive away. 

Telemedicine “caused a sigh of relief for the population of Bouake, Boundiali, Korhogo, everyone,” says Auguste Dosso, president of the “Little Heart” association, which helps families with cardiac health issues.

Some 45 percent of the Ivorian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank’s latest estimate in 2017. And the minimum monthly wage — not always respected — is only around $100, or 90 euros. 

Heart disease surging

The pioneer behind the scheme is cardiologist Florent Diby, who set up an association called Wake Up Africa.

In Ivory Coast, heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” ailments are surging, Diby explained. 

“Urbanisation is making people more sedentary, and there’s the rise in tobacco consumption, changes in diet, stress,” Diby said.

Three decades ago, only around one in eight of the Ivorian population had high blood pressure — now the figure is one in four, on a par with parts of Western Europe.

But in Ivory Coast — and across Africa — well-equipped cardiology units are rare.

“Ninety percent of heart attacks can be diagnosed by telemedicine, so for us cardiologists it’s a revolutionary technology,” said Diby.

The beauty of the telemedicine scheme is that neither the doctor nor the patient has to travel far. 

The cardiac patient is hooked up to the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other diagnostic machines with the help of a technician in a local health centre, which is connected to a computer in Bouake’s University Hospital. 

The cardiologist there can then see the results in real time, provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. 

The five-year-old project has already linked 10 health centres to the seven cardiologists at Bouake, enabling 4,800 patients in other towns to receive consultations by telemedicine each year. The goal is to expand this to 20 sites, doubling the intake.

Expertise France, the French public agency for international technical assistance, subsidises up to 185,000 euros of the network, which pays for equipment such as computers, artificial intelligence software and internet connections. 

Diby is now calling for telemedicine to be expanded in other medical fields such as neurology and psychiatry, not just in the Ivory Coast, but across West Africa too. 

That opinion is shared by other experts. Sixty per cent of Africans live in rural areas, where shortages of doctors are usually acute.

But numerous hurdles need to be overcome, especially investment in computers and access to the internet, according to a 2013 analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine. 

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Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

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hajar raissouni
Hajar Raissouni. Photo credit - Amnesty.org

Hajar Raissouni writes for the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities.

She was arrested as she left a clinic in Rabat where her lawyer Saad Sahli said she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding. 

But the 28-year-old was examined by a medic and the prosecution said she showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

In a statement, it insisted her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

On Friday, Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to immediately release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

Raissouni, who is religiously but not yet legally married, is also accused of having “sexual relations outside marriage” and faces a court hearing on Monday.

Her lawyers are lodging a complaint against police for forcing her to have a medical examination, her uncle Souleymane Raissouni told AFP.  

Also arrested were her fiancee, a doctor, a nurse and a secretary. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Friday joined social media users in calling for her release.

“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.

Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director at HRW, echoed Morayef’s call for all charges to be dropped.

The case had “a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter from one of Morocco’s last newspapers,” he said.

Touafik Bouachrine, the owner of Raissouni’s newspaper, was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison on charges of rape and other offences.

He also denies all charges and his lawyers say his trial was politically motivated.

Raissouni’s arrest sparked heated debate online, and some 150 journalists signed a petition against “campaigns of defamation” against her.

Moroccan law punishes abortions with up to five years in prison, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

However, NGOs say up to 800 women have clandestine abortions every day in the North African country.

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