HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A women's activism group said Friday Zimbabwe police fired tear gas and baton charged to disperse Valentine's Day marchers, herding 195 people demonstrators into a police precinct. Twenty-five were later treated for injuries and broken teeth.
The Women of Zimbabwe Arise leader Jenni Williams said all but one - 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 a symbol 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 on flaws in a proposed new constitution over women's rights.
Amnesty International, in a statement, said the police action coincided with a government announcement that set March 16 as a "tentative" date for a referendum on the constitution, followed by elections later in the year.
The police response to the marches "sounds yet another alarm bell for the exercise of internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in advance of the referendum and elections," said Amnesty Southern Africa director Noel Kututwa.
He said continuing attacks by police on Zimbabwean human rights defenders cast doubt on the country's ability to hold credible polls.
The clampdown on the Valentine's Day marches follows a police raid Monday on the offices of the respected Zimbabwe Peace Project group that monitors political violence and intimidation blamed mainly on President Robert Mugabe loyalist police and military.
Last month, the head of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Okay Machisa, spent nearly three weeks in jail after being denied bail on charges of illegally possessing voter registration forms and materials. His group that routinely monitor fair voting practices denies any wrongdoing.
"Zimbabwe is entering a critical period in its democratization process and these blatant attempts to silence and intimidate critics must end," Amnesty's Kututwa said.