Tensions rise as police block opposition demonstrations

Nelson Chamisa

Zimbabwe police block opposition protests, citing legal requirements

Plans for protests by opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa around Zimbabwe this week have hit a roadblock. The party had sought permission from the police to hold peaceful demonstrations protesting the recall of its legislators and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory in the August 2023 polls. However, their applications were all rejected on the grounds of not meeting the provisions of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Mopa).

According to a letter dated January 3, 2024, from Hurungwe district officer commanding, Kezias Karuru, to the convener of the demonstrations, Mathew Chapfura, the application lacked the necessary averments and failed to comply with the law. Karuru urged Chapfura to adhere to the provisions of Mopa in future applications. Consequently, heavy police presence was reported in Hurungwe and Makonde districts on the day of the planned protests, with police dispersing crowds and ordering the early closure of businesses.

Last week, the police issued a warning against individuals attempting to incite public violence, both physically and on social media. National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi emphasized that the approval of notifications for demonstrations is contingent upon the “existing situation” on the ground and the security assessment conducted by the regulating authority. He urged organizations and entities intending to hold processions or demonstrations to fully familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act Chapter 11:23 and to notify the regulatory authority accordingly.

Chapfura, the convener of the planned demonstrations in Hurungwe district, expressed disappointment at the police’s decision to block their protest. He explained that the participants intended to march on the streets to voice their concerns over various electoral malpractices, including the unlawful recalls of elected legislators from Parliament. Chapfura argued that the recent by-elections were illegal and called for a fresh election under free and fair conditions. He emphasized that their protest would have been peaceful and in full compliance with the law, with the presence of security officers and marshals.

This is not the first time the police have prevented the opposition party from organizing gatherings due to non-compliance with Mopa. However, the repeated denial of permission for peaceful protests raises concerns about the government’s commitment to upholding democratic principles and allowing freedom of expression. Critics argue that such actions stifle opposition voices and hinder the democratic process.

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