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Zimbabwe union leaders released on bail

afrol News, 9 August - In Zimbabwe, four trade union leaders, arrested on Thursday of last week, were today released on bail. The union leaders are charged with "uttering words which were likely to cause despondence" by a court in the central Zimbabwean city of Gweru.

The four include Wellington Chibebe, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), along with Lucia Matibenga, Timothy Kondo and Sam Machinda.

The ZCTU leaders on Thursday were arrested by Gweru police for allegedly holding an "illegal meeting". This "illegal meeting" was a ZTCU workshop on the impact of taxation and HIV/AIDS on Zimbabwean workers.

ZCTU Deputy Secretary, Collin Gwiyo, told the independent Zimbabwean weekly 'The Standard' that the four were arrested after police broke up their meeting. They ware charged under the controversial Public Order and Security Act (POSA) "as the police allege that we did no seek police clearance for the meeting," Mr Gwiyo said.

The Zimbabwean trade union holds that it is not obliged to seek police clearance each time its leadership holds a meeting. "We are a worker-related organisation and we have always argued that we should be exempted from this. We are not a political party," Mr Gwiyo told 'The Standard' yesterday.

The POSA, enacted by President Robert Mugabe in 2002, makes it illegal to hold political gatherings without police approval, and is regularly used against ZCTU leaders and members. Trade unions are however among organisations that are exempted from seeking police clearance when holding meetings, in accordance with a section of POSA.

The arrest of ZCTU leader Chibebe and his colleagues met with international protest late last week. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), of which ZCTU is member, on Friday strongly condemned the arrest and demanded their immediate release and withdrawal of all charges.

According to the ZCTU, its leaders were initially accused of holding the Gweru trade union workshop without police clearance but charges were changed later during the day.

Today, the four union leaders were taken from police custody and presented at the Gweru court. Following a short hearing at the court, the ZCTU leaders were charged with "uttering words which were likely to cause despondence" under POSA.

After the court hearing, the union leaders were released on a Zim$ 200,000 bail (US $40) each. The four are due to appear again in court on 8 September, ICFTU today informs.

ZCTU this afternoon expressed its thanks to the many organisations, which continue to support its work to defend the rights of Zimbabwe's workers, and has pledged to carry forward this work "despite the regime's ongoing anti-union activities."

Zimbabwe's Mugabe regime is repeatedly being accused of grave labour and trade union rights violations. ZCTU has been seen as one of the few remaining organisations capable of organising mass action against the unpopular Harare regime.

The Zimbabwean trade union movement is seen as close to the country's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai himself is a former ACTU leader.

The Harare government has frequently used violent methods to fight the trade union. Strikes and protest marches arranged by ZCTU have been met with armed police. Recently, the Mugabe regime also has enhanced the use of POSA against the unionists.

Trade unions are currently also urging President Mugabe to order that authorities drop charges for demonstrating against high level of taxes brought on 18 November 2003 against nine leaders of the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railwaymen's Union (ZARU) be dropped. The nine unionists were summoned to answer the charges in a Bulawayo court on 6 August.

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