Thursday, 25 August 2016

COPS HAVE NO POWER TO BAN ALL DEMOS

By Fadzayi Mahere
Contrary to popular misconception, the police simply do not have the power to 'ban all demonstrations' - even if one demonstration, for whatever reason, happens to have turned violent.

The right to demonstrate peacefully and present a petition is given to every Zimbabwean in terms of section 59 of the Constitution. If one person abuses this right during the course of a demonstration, the criminal law should take its course in respect of that individual. Such a person should be arrested, formally charged and brought before a court - not beaten to a pulp and gassed until he or she cannot breathe. There is no reason why the demonstration should not be allowed to continue after any violent protester is removed from the scene. Professional law enforcement as required by the Constitution entails the police protecting any protesters from violence during a demonstration and not the police instigating or enabling it. 

And it must be borne in mind that the Constitution does not limit the number of times demonstrations can be conducted in any given period. So long as they are peaceful, demonstrations can be conducted every single day should the holders of this right deem it necessary to do so.

The police fall under the Constitution and have no right to deprive citizens of rights that are constitutionally guaranteed. They have an obligation rather to comply fully with the Constitution - even where they or their handlers do not like the cause behind the exercise of these Constitutional rights. We all know that the Zimbabwe Republic Police are capable of doing the right thing - we see it each time Zanu PF holds a demonstration, without any formal permission for that matter. We long for a Zimbabwe where non-Zanu PF protesters are treated with similar dignity, professionalism and respect. We all have a right to the equal protectiom of the law under section 56(1) of the Constitution.

Reprisals, throwing teargas into moving public transport and the arbitrary punishment of onlookers and the public during a demonstration is a violation of freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under section 53 of the Constitution. It should never be allowed to happen and police officers who breach the Constitution in this regard are acting unconstitutionally.

And so it is not competent for the police or anyone else to issue a blanket ban on demonstrations. Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy not a high school.

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