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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Ban on rallies impacts negatively on free and fair elections
    March 26, 2007

    The government should immediately lift the ban it has imposed on political rallies and demonstrations in Harare.

    Gweru based journalists, civil society organisations and representatives of political parties made the call when they met at Gweru Press Club in the Midlands capital of Gweru on 24 March 2007 to discuss the impact of the ban on the right to freedom of expression and the staging of free and fair elections.

    Speaking during the press club debate on the ban, Member of the House of Assembly for Gweru Urban Timothy Mukahlera said the ban impacted negatively on the campaign programmes of opposition political parties ahead of the 2008 Presidential elections.

    In a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association the government on 21 February 2007 imposed a three-month ban on demonstrations and political rallies in Harare.

    In separate public notices published in The Herald on 21 February 2007 the officers commanding Mbare and Harare South chief superintendents Tsitsi Sadzamari and Thomsen Toddie Jangara respectively, said all demonstrations and rallies in the two respective districts had been banned until 20 May 2007.

    The police invoked the restrictive Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to effect the bans under Section 27 which allows for the temporary prohibition of the holding of public gatherings within police districts for a period not exceeding three months.

    The clashes in Highfield came a day after the High Court granted the MDC an order allowing them to proceed with their rally to launch its 2008 presidential campaign at the Zimbabwe grounds in the same suburb.

    Gweru Executive Mayor Zvidzai said elections should not viewed as one-day events but a process that involved the holding of elections campaigns by the contesting political parties. He stated that the failure by the opposition MDC to launch its 2008 Presidential campaign on 18 February 2007 when the police sealed off the venue of the meeting scheduled at Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare’s suburb of Highfield would impact negatively on the holding of free and fair elections.

    "The regime should not cry foul when observers declare elections not free and fair," said Zvidzai.

    He also questioned the selective application of the law by the police in Harare saying the ZANU PF Women’s League rally held at the ZANU PF headquarters on 23 March 2007 was held in a banned district. He took the opportunity to remind the police officers in attendance that their duty was to protect the citizens in a fair and impartial manner.

    The police cited the violence, looting and destruction of property in Highfield on 18 February and Kambuzuma on 4 February 2007 as reasons for the ban. On the 18 February 2007 the police violently stopped a High Court sanctioned rally in Highfield by the opposition MDC leading to violent clashes between riot police and supporters of the main opposition party.

    However, Gweru Deputy Mayor Obert Tachi Ncube gave numerous examples of dictatorships which fell soon after imposing such bans on their citizens describing such actions as the last kicks of a dying horse. He urged journalists to cover the activities of those political parties finding it difficult to hold rallies because of the bans.

    While the ban on political rallies was effected in Harare only, participants heard how the police were making it difficult for the opposition to hold rallies in Gweru. "In February we were told that we could not hold any rallies before the President came for his birthday celebrations on 21 February 2007 and we agreed. This amounts to the imposition of an unofficial ban," a representative of the MDC said.

    Participants at the Gweru Press Club debating session, however, said they were not surprised that ZANU PF was not represented at the meeting despite the fact that the ruling party had also been invited. "They certainly did not have anything to say because they are not affected by the bans," said a participant.

    Meanwhile, the police on 26 March 2007 said they had lifted the ban on political rallies in Harare’s dormitory city of Chitungwiza.

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