The historic motion, which was introduced by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) House of Assembly Chief Whip Hon Innocent Gonese, MP and seconded by Hon Tabitha Khumalo, the MP for Bulawayo East on Thursday, faces stiff resistance from ZANU PF MPs who for the last decade have been religiously spared the use of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA) by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, at the expense of other democratic forces.
POSA, a revised and strengthened version of the colonial Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA), regulates political gatherings, forces individuals and groups to notify police before any gathering, and penalises one’s failure to carry identity documents among other things.
"We want to de-criminalise the requirement of moving around with identity documents," said Hon Gonese.
Many members of the House spoke passionately about the negative and unjustifiable effects POSA has had on their own and on the public’s freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement.
"It’s a motion for leave of the house to bring in a Bill to amend POSA. We want the House to amend specific clauses such as Clasue 2 which Parly to amend POSA? deals with the definition of public gatherings and Clause 14 which deals with breach of peace to include the word ‘serious’ so that it deals with serious breaches only," said Hon Gonese.
"Failure to give notice to the police before a gathering should not constitute a criminal offence," added Hon Gonese.
He added that the courts and not the police should be responsible for prohibiting gatherings or imposing bans, and only on just cause.
In the past police have erroneously interpreted the notification requirement to mean an application for pernission to hold a meeting.
Debate on the motion was adjourned to tomorrow.
Hon Gonese said a simple majority is required for the motion to sail through.
Democratic space in Zimbabwe remains severely restricted due to a plethora of laws that inhibit freedom of assembly, movement and speech.
A transitional government formed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe has been slow in implementing reforms which include repealing draconian legislation
nine months into the new administration.
STATISTICS ON THE USE OF POSA AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS 2003
o There were 55 cases involving the arrest and detention of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), involving a total of 822 HRDs.
o Of the 822 HRDs arrested, 274 individuals were charged under POSA.
o None of them were successfully prosecuted by the State 2004.
o A total of 155 HRDs were charged under POSA.
o None of them were successfully prosecuted by the State 2005.
o A total of 547 HRDs were arrested during this year.
o 52 of the HRDs were charged under POSA.
o None of them were successfully prosecuted by the State 2006.
o A total of 577 HRDs were arrested during the year.
o Of these, 65 HRDs were charged under POSA.
o None of them were successfully prosecuted by the State 2007.
o There were 96 cases of arrest and detention of HRDs, involving a total of 1,127 individuals.
o POSA was used in just 5 instances, owing to the advent of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which duplicated POSA in entire sections.
o As such, the Code was used in 24 instances of arrest and detention.
o None of the HRDs were successfully prosecuted by the state – either under POSA or the Criminal Code 2008.
o There were 1,446 instances of arrest and detention of HRDs.
o Of these, 271 were charged with participating in unlawful gatherings and were charged under either POSA or the Criminal Code.
o None of the cases finalised have been successfully prosecuted by the State 2009.
o At least 125 people have so far been arrested and accused of participating in gatherings and charged under either POSA or various provisions of the Criminal Code.
o None of the cases thus far have been successfully prosecuted by the State, save for one instance in which the HRDs paid admission of guilt fines.
This was to secure their release and avoid being detained in inhumane and degrading conditions in police cells. The admission of guilt fines are now being challenged by the affected HRDs in the Magistrates’ Court.
Source- ZLHR Human Rights Defenders