Residents want new security law to bar army involvement in civilian protests

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By Costah Nkomo

Harare residents Friday differed strongly on the proposed Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPA) Bill with some demanding the law should bring with it, some clauses to block any army involvement in future civilian protests.

The law seeks to replace the Public Order and Security Act which has been found to be a hindrance to the full enjoyment to citizens’ freedoms of association.

The hearing was jointly hosted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Peace and Security at the Harare City Sports Centre.

Nathan Chimombe, who spoke as a concerned citizen, said the proposed law should bar army involvement in civilian protests.

He said authorities should instead equip the police, who are constitutionally mandated to undertake the duties, with further training.

“A demonstration is not a war,” he said.

“It is an expression of displeasure by a citizen. My proposal is that the army should never be involved in internal demonstrations whatsoever.

“Let’s train our police to the extent that they can contain the demonstrations; not the army. The army should never be involved at all costs,” he said.

His comments follow two situations August last year and January this year in which armed soldiers were unleashed to quell civil unrest with six gunned down last year and a further 17 killed in the same manner this year.

During the public hearing, Zanu PF activists who constituted the crowd defended MOPA in its current state saying police must remain with their full powers because of cases of past opposition violence.

Party provincial chair for Harare, Ratidzo Mukarati said she was in full support of MOPA.

“…Police must be given powers especially looking at what happened during demonstrations where protesters where armed with stones.

“We are in full support of that Bill and may the police be given all the weaponry they may need and they should use maximum force not minimum force,” Mukarati said.

MDC senator and lawyer Douglas Mwonzora told that although opposing views are shared during public hearings, it was apparent that the majority of the speakers during the hearings supported the right to demonstrate by citizens.

“What is very clear is that the right to demonstration is being supported than the right not to demonstrate.

“There is a disparity regarding the use of the army to quell demonstrations. Obviously, people are drawing from past experiences,” he said.