UN envoy calls on govt to allow citizen right to demonstrate

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By Audience Mutema

UNITED Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville has urged the State to ensure people’s rights to demonstrate and express their views without intimidation.

The UN official was speaking ahead of last Friday’s MDC organised demonstration which was later banned by the police in Harare.

He urged the Senate to ensure the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill which was before it had the interests of the majority in it.

The law has since been passed by the national assembly and is yet to be considered by the upper house.

“Ahead of today’s (Friday) planned protest, which was called off at the last minute, there were worrying reports of threats against citizens who wish to exercise their right to express their opinions of the economic situation via peaceful protests, with allegations of increased surveillance of, and threats against, civil society organisations by State agents.

“More disturbing still, there have been reports of actual physical attacks on, and arrests and detention of, civil society leaders and activists over the past few months, with one human rights defender and one political activist reportedly temporarily abducted and severely beaten by unidentified armed men a few days ago, apparently because of their role in helping to organize the protests today.

“In the last few hours, we have heard reports of more such cases and are looking into them. Senior officials have also reportedly issued threats against organisers of demonstrations or against people who take part in them.

“State authorities have a duty to ensure people’s rights to freedom of expression, and to facilitate and protect the right to peaceful assembly.

“In addition, we urge the Senate when reviewing the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill to protect the essential democratic freedoms of peaceful assembly and demonstration by ensuring the Bill’s compliance with the Constitution, decisions of the Constitutional Court, and international human rights standards.”