THE operations of the Zimbabwe Republic Police have been flagged as a great impediment to the full enjoyment of the rights of assembly and association during the election period, new research has revealed.
The findings of a study by Francisca Midzi — a scholar, lawyer and holder of a political science degree — are contained in a journal titled Democracy, Governance and Human Rights in Zimbabwe published last week.
She asserts that the conduct of the police has made it dangerous for people to support opposition political parties.
“Through use of repressive laws and adding their own unlawful actions such as arbitrary use of force and dragnet arrests, police have made it difficult and dangerous for people to freely assemble and associate, especially during electoral periods,” he saiIn January 2023, 26 people, including two members of Parliament Amos Chibaya and Costa Machingauta, were arrested in Harare’s Budiriro suburb during a dragnet operation. Even passers-by who were coming from nearby shops were arrested.
Midzi adds that police officers use excessive force when dispersing crowds, leading to injury.
“Police impunity is a major challenge on the exercise of the freedom of association and assembly. The police have injured people during dispersal of gatherings, but there is no evidence of internal disciplinary action or prosecution to hold them to account,” said Midzi.
Journalists and political party members have fallen victim to the heavy-handed conduct of the police. In January 2022, five members of the newly formed Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) were brutally assaulted, arrested and charged with criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct in Harare’s central business district for walking around clad in yellow.
Apart from this, there seems to be concerted efforts by the police to ensure that opposition parties, especially the CCC, do not conduct rallies.
Over 60 of the party’s programmes were declined by the police since its formation in January 2022. Midzi says it is rare to hear of the prohibition of Zanu Pf rallies.
“It is very rare to hear reports of the police prohibiting Zanu PF rallies. During the campaign period for the by-elections held in March 2022, the police prohibited or disrupted some of the CCC rallies. The CCC party also raised concern that their rallies were banned on unjustified reasons such as the police not having the capacity to manage the event or that the venue they intend to use has been booked,” he said.
Although police spokesperson Paul Nyathi told media practitioners at a meeting convened by the Election Resource Centre in February that they stopped Zanu PF from hosting a rally because the CCC had booked the same venue earlier this year.
In another event of selection application of the law, CCC official Job Sikhala was arrested for allegedly obstruction of justice for making utterances during a funeral in Nyatsime, while Abton Mashayanyika who called for the murder of Nelson Chamisa and his children at a Zanu PF rally in Mberengwa North is walking scot free.
Midzi’s paper suggests reforms are needed in order to ensure that the rights to freedom of assembly and association are enjoyed by all so as to ensure that the 2023 general election is held in a free and fair environment, which includes reforming the police service.
“The police should provide simplified information in all official languages explaining the notification procedures, police and convener’s responsibilities and recourse mechanisms available to the public where they are not happy with police conduct,” she notes.
“Government must provide training to members of the police service at all levels and ranks to sensitise them on their constitutional mandate, in particular human rights-oriented enforcement of laws regulating the exercise of the freedom of assembly and association,”
“The police must ensure that it exercises political neutrality in the discharge of their functions during electoral process. The police command structure should regularly declare their political neutrality publicly.”
“Government must expedite the establishment and operationalisation of the ‘Independent Complaints Mechanism’, as required by Section 210 of the Constitution,” recommended Midzi.