Freedom of Assembly

The warning by Inspector General of Police against the planned demonstration by the UPND is an ominous threat meaning that Police will be at hand to mete brutal treatment including beating, shooting and tear gassing.

This is the language the police have become associated with in dealing with opposition.

It does not matter if the demonstration is peaceful and non violent, the Police are guaranteeing UPND violence. The police are promising to be violent to ensure that the demonstration does not take place however peaceful.

For some reason the Police associate demonstration with anarchy, violence and mayhem. In a way this is a self fulfilling role which the Police have taken. They create violence because they expect it.

Not all demonstrations are violent. Not all assemblies are called to create anarchy. Public assemblies in a democracy are meant to express an opinion or express a position on a policy, situation or circumstance.

More importantly however it is not the role of the police to police or superintend political activity in the country. The right to assembly is one such right which accords people with a like mind to associate and express their opinion.

The political party in power may not want such a manifestation because it might undermine their legitimacy, but this is what the constitution offers the citizens to ensure that political parties in power remain accountable to the people.

The last time the UPND held a meeting it was marred by the overzealous PF youths who were intent on interrupting the meeting because they did not understand the importance of political activity, but this is no reason for the Police to adopt the same posture.

The Supreme Court was very categorical in striking down the restrictive parts of the Public Order Act when it ruled, and we quote “… the people of this country have come a long way and would not like ever again to be oppressed or caged by any other individual or group of individuals. It is therefore not true that there would be chaos and anarchy if the requirement of obtaining permission with the chance of being denied such permission is pronounced against. For one thing, there are other laws such as those under Chapter IX of the Penal Code. For another, the holding that section 5(4) is unconstitutional will simply mean that the police and other authorities can no longer deny the citizens of this country their freedom to assemble and speak. The requirement of a prior permit is a left over from the days of Her Majesty’s Governors and the British themselves do not require permission to assemble and speak. Why should we require it? Although not guided by concern for the administrative consequences, we readily accept and acknowledge that there are many regulatory features in CAP 104 which are perfectly constitutional and very necessary for the sake of public peace and order.”

The right to freedom of assembly or association is recognized universally as one of the most fundamental human, political   and civil right.

As a universal right it should be enjoyed by all citizens without any undue let or hindrance and yet time and again we have seen this right being denied to the opposition for no discernible reason.

In the United States of America, a specific law has been passed to ensure that Congress will not pass any law outlawing the right for people to peacefully assemble- in other words people of like mind are allowed to assemble without any hindrance.Our own article 21 of the constitution states that “Except with his own consent a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say,his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade union or association for the protection of his interests.”

We cannot continue to struggle with the Public Order Act when the law is very clear, because the Supreme Court has basically outlawed what Inspector General Libongani is trying to do, namely preventing people from assembling.

It is unacceptable that ruling party youth have on many occasioned caused violence and public conflict in which the Police have been passive, while the Police are active in suppressing any form of opposition demonstration.

The law must be equitable, just as the Police must not have any political bias.