Right to demonstrate not absolute

Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
Government is entitled to impose limitations on the right to demonstrate by citizens because such right does not take away other rights that are enshrined in the law, a top official has said.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services secretary, Mr Nick Mangwana said in an editorial we publish today that it was the responsibility and duty of any government to ensure the protection of its citizens and all that fell within its jurisdiction.

Mr Mangwana said this while writing in his weekly column in The Herald.

“The disconcerting thing about the human rights regimes is the tacit belief that the right to protest, petition or demonstrate has supremacy over any other right enshrined in our Constitution. This is not only erroneous, but quite defective.

“In any country under the sun, the right to protest, demonstrate or petition has caveats and does not trump all other rights. In fact there are safeguards to that right. In Zimbabwe, those safeguards are currently legislated in the Public Order and Security Act (POSA),” said Mr Mangwana.

His statement coincides with a recent call by MDC-Alliance president Mr Nelson Chamisa where he threatened to call for mass demonstrations in protest of sanctions-induced economic challenges.

In January, several innocent people were forced to join a demonstration organised by civic society and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions which resulted in deaths of people and left a trail of destruction of property.

Mr Mangwana said the current legal reforms aimed at managing public gatherings were not unique from other countries, but were more liberal.

He was referring to the proposed repeal of POSA and replacing it with a recently gazetted Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill which Mr Mangwana said was meant to benchmark it with countries considered as beacons of democracy.

“The raison d’être of this Bill is to repeal POSA and replace it with this Bill which is aligned to the Constitution as well as to modernise the management of public gatherings in adopting modern ideas and benchmark them with best practices in countries considered as the beacons of democracy,” said Mr Mangwana.

He said Zimbabwe’s legislation giving effect on the right to freedom of expression ranked competitively well if not better than those countries regarded as the best in the world like England, Wales, United States and South Africa among others.

“The Zimbabwean Government gazetted Maintenance of Order Peace Bill whose Section 7 is not any different from its UK applicable counterpart, but with the Zimbabwean one being much more liberal. To follow logic from certain circles, it means that Zimbabwe has come up with a Bill that is much more democratic than that one in England and Wales,” said Mr Mangwana.

He said in countries like England and Wales, the police could specify or limit the number of people that could participate in a demonstration.

“Right now in Zimbabwe, there are those who are threatening community life by brandishing ‘crippling demonstrations’. In that they are threatening to bring mayhem to those that would have chosen not to participate.

“To use the language used by the British in their law, they are threatening to ‘cause a serious disruption to the life of the community,’” said Mr Mangwana.

“When one looks at all these provisions, it is clear that Zimbabwe is one of the most liberal country in the world on paper.”

Source : The Herald

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