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Published On: Tue, Sep 20th, 2016

Setback for opposition parties

HARARE – Pro-democracy and opposition political groups seeking to have the High Court overturn a police ban on demonstrations in central Harare will have to wait a little longer after the court deferred its hearing to September 27.

Judge president George Chiweshe yesterday postponed the hearing to allow the groups to file their heads of arguments.

The parties had on Friday filed an urgent chamber High Court application in a bid to have a swift hearing on the ban imposed last week by police ahead of nationwide demonstrations that had been organised by 18 political parties coalescing under the banner of National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera).

“The judge said he felt the parties must file heads of argument before the matter is heard. He later postponed the matter to September 27 to allow the parties to file the papers,” said the applicants’ lawyer, Zimbabwe Chimbga.

On Friday, police invoked provisions of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa) to impose a ban on demonstrations in central Harare for a month — between September 16 and October 15 in a move which analysts said was meant to contain growing protests.

The parties argued that the ban was a backdoor imposition of a state of emergency.

In the application, they cited Newbert Saunyama, commissioner-general of police Augustine Chihuri and Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo as respondents.

“The net effect of the ban of September 16 is to take away the rights that have been given and provided by the Constitution. It is a backdoor imposition of the State of Emergency,” the lawyers argued.

The applicants further accused the police of violating the law and snubbing Nera legal secretary Douglas Mwonzora, who visited Saunyama’s offices to make presentations against the ban.

“The right to be heard was not respected before and after issuance of the notice of prohibition on September 12 and 13 and after.

“The ban is invalid to the extent that it does not comply with Section 3 of the Administration of the Justice Act, in that no reasons on the face of it of why the ban is being imposed . . . in other words, up to now, we do not know why the ban has been imposed,” vendors’ union leader, Stendrick Zvorwadza, who is also among the applicants, said in an affidavit.

As the ban on protests in Harare became operational on Saturday, police launched a crackdown on dissenters — deploying thousands of its details in the provinces — where Nera had organised demonstrations to press for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.

That police crushed demonstrations by brutalising and arresting prominent figures where it had not imposed a ban led to fears by opposition members and pro-democracy activists that the country is now effectively operating under a state of emergency.

The weekend crackdown on dissenting voices by panicking authorities followed an ominous warning by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo last week, when police re-issued a highly-contentious ban on all demonstrations in central Harare for a month, that the State would act on protesters without mercy, in moves which heightened fears that the government had now effectively effected a state of emergency in the country in its desperate bid to contain growing civil unrest.

President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF government are battling to contain restive Zimbabweans who are protesting the current economic meltdown which they say is the fault of the nonagenarian and his party. -Daily News