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New year celebrations illegal?

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I had an unpleasant brush with the law on New Year’s Day when my nephew and niece alongside two friends who they had invited for an all night prayer service were arrested by a bunch of overzealous junior police officers.

They had just gone out for a breather during the official all night break when we got news just five minutes afterwards that they had been hounded by the police who apparently were on a spree of arresting every other young person or female.

These actions were largely unconstitutional, illegal and an affront if not a calculated assault on civil liberties as enshrined in the supreme law of the land.

This is not the first time where law enforcement agents have been caught on the wrong side of the law as last year there were numerous reports of armed policemen beating up and arbitrarily arresting people in places such as Lobengula, Nkulumane and the city centre. On New Year’s Day they took it a step further by arresting hundreds of innocent people allegedly for loitering.

Has it become a crime let alone a sin for one to be seen on the streets of Bulawayo on New Year’s Eve? Virtually the whole world breaks into celebrations during this time and in most civilised countries there are impressive firework displays with hundreds of thousands of peoples massing the streets in joyous celebration.

Not so in Zimbabwe and specifically in Bulawayo where the police decided that it was illegal for people to be seen on the streets.

The police do have a big role to play in maintaining law and order as well as preventing crime.

However, on New Year’s Eve they took it too far by arresting people that were coming from church services and even others who were not necessarily coming from church, but who have a right by virtue of the fact that they are human beings, to join in the merriment of celebrating the New Year without infringing on the rights of others.

On this horrendous and harrowing morning or rather night, young police officers were moving through the streets of Bulawayo and arresting any and every other person they thought was loitering.

For goodness sake there will be normal people on any normal city in any normal country celebrating New Year’s Day unless a new draconian law is gazetted clearly making New Year celebrations an offence!

In the first place the constitution which is the supreme Law of the land, grants Zimbabwean fundamental rights and freedoms which allow them to peacefully and responsibly move freely, associate freely within the borders of the land.

Section 2 of the country’s Constitution is abundantly clear in stating that “the Constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid”.

Quite clearly the practise of arbitrarily arresting people without even telling them of their crime is at variance with the supreme law of the land and should be condemned by all law abiding citizens.

The Constitution further protects citizens against such blatant disregard of their rights by entrenching the following freedoms:
The right to personal liberty which includes the right not to be detained without trial and not to be deprived of their liberty without just cause (Chapter 4, Section 49 Zimbabwe Constitution).

Rights of arrested and detained persons – this includes the right to be informed of the reason of arrest at the time of arrest, access to a spouse, partner or relative.

The right to consult a legal practitioner. All arrested persons should be treated humanely and with respect for their inherent dignity.

(Section 50, Zimbabwe Constitution).

Right to human dignity (Section 51)

Freedom from torture or cruel, Inhuman and degrading treatment (Section 53)

Freedom of association and assembly (Section 58) is that loitering?

Freedom of movement (Section 66)

I witnessed with my own eyes these constitutional provisions being torn to shreds by overzealous police officers who are inviting unwarranted litigation upon the State and especially the Home Affairs ministry through this shameful and unconstitutional conduct.

I tried in vain to remonstrate with an uninformed female police officer at Central Police Station that five people had been unlawfully arrested when coming from a church service, but I was rudely told to come at eight o’clock the next day.

This implied that my young nieces and nephews had to spend a night in jail without eating (this qualifies as inhuman treatment), when they had not committed a crime and in conditions which were sub-human because that evening it rained the whole night and female prisoners had been bunched into a “game park” like fence in the open like wild animals while the rain pounded their fair skins.

(These conditions were clearly inhuman and degrading).

The role of the security services including the police is to uphold the law and the Constitution which includes fundamental rights and I will continue with part two of the instalment next week. Views and opinions from the public are welcome.

Mayibuye! And domination be with us all.

Dumisani Nkomo is an activist, social entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust. He writes in his personal capacity.

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