Outrage over cop molestation claims

HARARE - Zimbabweans, and women in particular, have united to roundly condemn Wednesday’s chaotic scenes in Parliament in which police roughed up opposition legislators after authorities bizarrely moved to eject an MDC MP who was wearing a jacket decorated in the colours of the national flag.

Female MPs have also told a stunned nation how they had allegedly been groped by the manic police during the pandemonium.

The unprecedented move by the police to storm the National Assembly came after acting Speaker of Parliament, Mabel Chinomona, surprisingly ruled that MDC MP Costa Machingauta be removed from the House for proudly wearing his colourful jacket: arguably one of the highest demonstrations of patriotism and nationalism by a citizen.

Rights groups which spoke to the Daily News yesterday said Chinomona was at fault in the sad saga, adding that she should be held accountable for the chaotic scenes which they said had brought Parliament into disrepute.

“Considering that the session was being chaired by a woman, we expected her to be honourable and responsible enough to protect fellow women. But unfortunately, this did not happen.

“It is also our expectation that police should be taking a lead in creating a safe environment free of harassment for all, but surprisingly, they are taking the lead in perpetrating sexual harassment as evidenced by recent developments.

“It is in that vein that we want Parliament and the commissioner-general of police, Augustine Chihuri, to act quickly to rectify this anomaly so as to restore the dignity of women who no longer feel safe even in the august House,” an official with Justice for Women Zimbabwe (JWZ), Bridgette Nyandoro, said.

On its part, the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance (Zwipa) said the chaos in Parliament showed that the police had lost their moral and legal mandate to protect the people.

“ZRP has a record of sexually harassing and brutalising women and this has been going on without action being taken.

“As an organisation that represents the rights of women, we are calling for an urgent inquiry on the conduct of the police,” the organisation’s founder and national coordinator, Linda Masarira, said.

“In May a (police) inspector who was leading the anti-riot police at Africa Unity Square in Harare fondled my left breasts as he was trying to arrest me.

“It was a mammoth task to open a docket and the docket has since gone missing for the third time and the police are reluctant to take the matter to court,” Masarira who languished in remand prison for more than two months following her arrest in Harare during the July 6 stay-away, fumed further.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC said Wednesday’s scenes were a sign that Zanu PF and key State institutions such as the police had no regard for the rule of law in the country.

“Zimbabwe degenerated into a banana republic years ago. The Zanu PF dictatorship has absolute contempt and utter disrespect for the doctrine of separation of powers.

“To them, Parliament is just an underfunded, weak and castrated appendage of the Executive arm of the State. This is why Zanu PF thugs and hoodlums, fully dressed in police uniform are deployed at Parliament masquerading as duly attested members of the police force.

“The Speaker of Parliament is virtually a ceremonial head of an institution that is emasculated. Practically, he doesn’t have any power. Zanu PF is a mafia organisation! warts and all,” its spokesperson Obert Gutu thundered.

An agitated MDC vice president, Nelson Chamisa, has also blamed Chinomona for disobeying the rules of Parliament by allowing police to storm the august house.

“We have authorities here and hence police officers cannot come to Parliament and I challenge you (Chinomona) to show us where in the Constitution this is provided. I have consulted with legal gurus here and there is nothing like that.

“Our biggest problem though is that some of the police officers who entered the house harassed and sexually abused female MPs, which is a very serious offence.  But I know that this is easy to ignore when you are not a victim.

“We underscore that in terms of section 148 of the constitution we need to respect our MPs for who they are. So, until we have an explanation of how the police ended up in here, we will have difficulties co-operating with you from now onwards,” Chamisa said.

Some of the MPs who were allegedly abused by the police include Lwazi Sibanda, the MDC MP for Tsholotsho, who claimed that she had her undergarment torn as one of the officers pulled her by the skirt, while another legislator, Susan Machuma, alleged that one of the officers had fondled her breasts.

Chinomona, who was getting advice from Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda, promised that the matter would be investigated thoroughly.

However, she maintained that according to the rules of Parliament, police had authority to come in to arrest persons who could be interrupting the business of the House, adding that they did not need a warrant of arrest to do so.

Most MPs were also in agreement that the police had infringed on the Constitution by invading Parliament and roughing up legislators, thereby ignoring a key tenet of Zimbabwe’s constitutional democracy — the separation of powers between the Executive and Parliament.

On the other hand, Zimbabweans were united in bemoaning the government’s “mad criminalisation” of the use and wearing of the national flag, where supposed offenders now risk having to serve a two-year jail term or being fined $200 under new laws governing the use of the flag.

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