‘Woman of courage’ to speak in Orono, Bangor

Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 10:15 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — A former Zimbabwe radio broadcaster will speak at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Bangor Public Library and at 11 a.m. the same day in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union at the University of Maine.

Jestina Mukoko’s speech is titled “Political Violence in Zimbabwe: A Curse or An Age Old Culture.” She is the 2010 Human Rights Fellow at the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College in Waterville.

Mukoko is executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a nonprofit agency that monitors human rights abuses throughout the African country, according to a UMaine press release. It said the project’s reports provide the international community with assessments of human rights abuses, including violence against women and politically biased distribution of food, and were particularly crucial during the violent 2008 election period.

A longtime leader in the human rights and activist communities in Zimbabwe, Mukoko was abducted from her home in December 2008 by state security agents for her work monitoring the brutality of the Robert Mugabe government, according to information on the U.S. State Department website. During her 21-day abduction, she was tortured, beaten and forced to confess to a crime she did not commit. She was detained until March 2, 2009.

After Mukoko appealed her arrest through the court system, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court finally ruled on Sept. 28, 2010, that state security forces had violated her human rights to such an extent as to warrant a permanent stay in the prosecution of the case against her. A concurrent civil suit is still pending.

“In a country in which regime-sponsored violence and intimidation has often silenced opponents, Ms. Mukoko’s ongoing legal case is an important statement against violence and oppression,” the State Department website states. “Her bravery in calling to account those responsible for her abduction and torture, as well as her insistence on continuing her role as head of ZPP, has only reinforced her position as a leading human rights defender in one of the most oppressive countries in the world.”

Mukoko was one of 10 women named 2010 International Women of Courage by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At a March ceremony in Washington, Mukoko accepted the award on behalf of herself and other awardees. A copy of her remarks are posted on the State Department website.

“By accepting this award bestowed on the 10 of us,” she said, “we confirm that women have a place in the fight for equality and justice, as this award we believe actually belongs to the multitude of women we work with and some we honor posthumously today because they are no longer with us, having died fighting the good fight.

“The award beckons on us to stand tall and refuse to be intimidated and harassed, as these are tactics to remove us from the focus of our objectives,” she continued. “We do not want to be passive bystanders, and it is such recognition that ensures that we do not tire until we reach the finish line and pass the baton to the next generation, the girls who are among us.”

Mukoko’s appearances in Bangor and Orono are sponsored by UMaine’s School of Policy and International Affairs.

People who plan to attend the speech at the Bangor Public Library are asked to RSVP by calling 581-1835 or e-mailing admin@bangorforeignpolicyforum.org,

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