'Police's ban of demos violates people's rights'

HARARE - The announcement by government on police bans on all demonstrations in the capital under the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) violates rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression which is protected under international human rights law, social and political commentators have said.

Since June, various groups and political parties have staged at least 13 public protests across the country over deteriorating economic conditions, widespread corruption, police brutality, and lack of electoral reforms.

On Thursday evening, a senior police official, chief superintendent Newbert Saunyama, announced the ban of demonstrations in the capital, including a planned demonstration the next day by 18 opposition parties calling for national electoral reforms.

Human rights activist Dewa Mavhinga said the law banning demonstrations, the Statutory Instrument 101A of 2016, which went into effect this week signals intensifying government repression amid rising public discontent.

“Banning protests will not resolve the country’s problems. Instead of imposing pseudo state-of-emergency regulations banning protests, the police should be maintaining public order and protecting life and property,” said Mavhinga.

The human rights activist added that government should make a clean break with the country’s violent past.

“It should allow peaceful protests, respond appropriately if protests turn violent, and hold all those breaking the law to account.”

Mavhinga added that the ban violates the right to free expression under the country’s Constitution.

“It runs afoul of a constitutional provision that states that human rights can be limited only ‘in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.’”

Mining activist Farai Maguwu said the ban is a de facto state of emergency and sadly it has worked.

“I think the crisis we have in Zimbabwe is the willingness of the citizens to observe unjust laws. The demonstrations by the opposition must have gone ahead as planned and in accordance with provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“I totally agree with St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas who argued that an unjust law is no law at all. Zimbabweans must disobey unjust and undemocratic instructions from those whose stomachs are always full,” said Maguwu.

Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said with Zanu PF contemplating changing the Constitution, the political operating space is bound to shrink further.

“Knowing that demonstrations are the only course we have for physical political expression, they will place more obstacles on the way.

“Posa is virtually nullified or rather diluted by Zanu PF’s appetite for control. They prefer something tougher,” said Ngwenya.

Media practitioner Nigel Nyamutumbu said it is regrettable that the police have to take archaic and unjustified measures to deal with citizens’ dissent and in the process deny Zimbabweans of their civil liberties.

“While the violent confrontations that have characterised the recent demonstrations are a cause for concern, it is not only unfair to use a statutory instrument to restrict citizens from their rights to assembly and to free expression but also downright retrogressive and unacceptable in a democratic society.

“It is indeed time to pressure policy makers to align unconstitutional legislation such as Posa which evidently, the State has an appetite to continue invoking in response to growing citizens protests,” said Nyamutumbu.

Playwright Silvanos Mudzvova said for the State who were claiming the demonstrations were not working, this reaction is shocking to say the least.

“This ban clearly indicates the government is very scared of demonstrations. The State has noted these demonstrators are not funded by anyone but funded by hunger and every government the world over knows it is recipe for disaster.

“The Constitution doesn’t allow for such moves but Zanu PF is very desperate to remain in power,” said Mudzvova.

Political commentator George Makoni believes the ban is meant to derail the momentum of the protests against government since the trend had become unbearable in the past weeks.

“It is meant to give the Zanu PF government more time to strategise ways of squashing future demonstrations.

“Posa has once again been used to justify the statutory instrument since it gives the police unlimited power to undemocratically crush protests.

“The government knows that it will take time when objections to it will take place, hence the opposition will be starting from scratch.”

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