HARARE – The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are vital to every democratic society.
These rights are not only enshrined in international human rights standards ratified by Zimbabwe but are also enshrined in the amended Zimbabwe Constitution.
Despite this, the Zimbabwean government has failed to ensure the enjoyment of these rights by the majority of Zimbabweans.
Elsewhere in this edition, we carry a story about attempts to curtail the activities of Temba Mliswa’s Yard through the widely-discredited and draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa).
Since its enactment in 2002, Posa has been used by the authorities to target opposition supporters, independent media and human rights activists and specifically restrict their rights to freely assemble; criticise the government and president; and engage in, advocate or organise acts of peaceful civil protest.
The police have used Posa to arbitrarily arrest hundreds of Zimbabweans, mainly opposition supporters, since its enactment.
Many have had the charges against them dropped or dismissed in court due to lack of evidence. However, the legislation has provided authorities with a pretext to intimidate, harass and even torture real or perceived supporters and members of the opposition.
That is why we back Mliswa’s attempt to challenge this draconian law in the High Court.
We believe he has a strong case.
The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are enshrined in international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Articles 19, 21 and 22 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11.
Although Zimbabwe ratified the ICCPR in 1991 and the African Charter in 1986, the government has subsequently promulgated an array of national legislation such as Posa to suppress and violate these rights.
The right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests, and it is indispensable for the formation of public opinion.
The absence of freedom of expression contributes to a country’s failure to respect other human rights.
Freedom of association and freedom of assembly are twin rights which are separately guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Articles 10 and 11 respectively.
After enacting a new Constitution in 2013, one would have hoped for a paradigm shift in the enforcement of Posa, but we seem to be stuck in the same regime.
When will Zimbabweans start to enjoy their constitutional and inalienable rights to freedom of association and assembly?
Only the courts can make this determination.