This is how dictatorship starts.
It starts by the pervasion of legitimate institutions of Governance, which divert from serving national interest to serving party political interests. This is what is happening to our Zambia Police Force.
Opposition assemblies are always treated with characteristic brutality while public manifestation by the ruling party, however violent and rowdy are tolerated.
A typical example is the misinterpretation of the Public Order Act which the Police are using to suppress the constitutional rights of assembly guaranteed by the constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court of Zambia.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Solomon Jere has recently stated that political parties require Police Permission to hold assemblies.
There is no such requirement under the law.
The Supreme court has emphasized the supremacy of the law as contained in Article 21 which states that “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that it to say, his right to assembly freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade union or other association for the protection of his interests.”
Therefore they said in their ruling in Mulundika and Others “The requirement of prior permission to gather and to speak, which permission can be denied sometimes for good and at other times for bad cause not contemplated by the constitutional derogation, directly affects the guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly. It is little wonder that these are freedoms most discussed by the courts whenever a democratic society is being considered.”
For this reason they concluded, “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.”
The Judges went further and asked “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?
The supreme court recognized the need for the Police to ensure peace at gatherings and uin this regard provided for conveners to notify the Police and said “Though therefore the police can no longer deny a permit because the requirement for one is about to be pronounced against, they will be entitled– indeed they are under a duty in terms of the remainder of the Public Order Act — to regulate public meetings, assemblies and processions strictly for the purpose of preserving public peace and order.”
The Judges were aware, as seems to be the case now, that the Police could very easily operate in a partisan manner where the party in power would virtually proscribe meetings of the opposition.
It is for this reason they concluded “The constitutional arrangements for democracy can hardly survive if the free flow of ideas and information can be torpedoed by a misguided regulating officer.”
It is therefore not clear why Dr. Jere and indeed the Police in general seem to harbor the notion that those seeking to assemble must seek their permission. There is no such requirement following the striking down of the law patterning to this requirement.
He has been quoted as saying that “police denied granting permission to the UPND because the opposition political party did not meet all the requirements.”
There is no such thing as a police permit for an assembly. This was struck down by the court. The only requirement is a notification.