- Last Updated on 07 March 2013
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THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) continues to bar and disrupt draft constitution publicity meetings across the country just 10 days before Zimbabweans vote to either adopt or reject the draft constitution during a crucial referendum expected to pave way for the harmonized elections later in 2013.
In what could be construed as a misapplication of the ZRP powers granted by the Public Order and Security Act (POSA); the police have taken to disrupting or forbidding the convening of constitutional meetings with the latest incident being the disruption of the MDC-T rally in Harare's Highfields suburb on Tuesday 5 March.
The disruption of the MDC-T meeting was reportedly done on the premise that the police had not "cleared € the meeting - a premise that MDC-T organising secretary, Nelson Chamisa considered to be unfounded given that the police had been notified.
Said Chamisa: "They insist that they did not clear the meeting even when we are convinced that all we needed to do was notify them like we did. €
There is disagreement whether the POSA requirement for the convening of a public meeting is that one should seek permission from the police or that one should merely notify them of such intent but perhaps the police appear to hold the latter view if recent events are anything to go by.
MDC-T's frustration over the disruption of its meeting was equally shared by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) who yesterday found themselves on the receiving end of a pre-emptive announcement by police in Chipinge, given five days in advance, that they would not brook an envisaged NCA meeting scheduled for Friday 8 March.
Both the MDC-T and NCA meetings were supposed to discuss the COPAC draft Constitution ahead of the crucial referendum to be held on March 16 and the barring of these two organizations from holding their meetings raises the question of whether police consent is a prerequisite to the convening of public meetings.
Prior to this , police barred a constitutional debate by the Media Centre in Harare on February 27 and a community meeting on the COPAC draft Constitution organized by the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) in Chegutu on February 6.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Director McDonald Lewanika said:
"It is clear that our beloved country is now trending back towards being a police state.
"The actions of the police, in barring and disrupting the meetings of both those who are of the 'Yes' vote lobby and those of the 'No' vote lobby pile up on the now regular raids on NGOs.
"The recent developments clearly show that free political activity in this country is under arrest. €
"These unwarranted disruptions expose the partisan nature of the police force that, besides implementing Zanu-PF resolutions, also seems to believe that Zanu-PF alone should be given the leeway to have audience with the people.
"Under these conditions elections will be a nightmare and a credible referendum a pipedream. €
Police are supposed to be notified of public gatherings four days before, according to the requirements of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and civil society organizations largely adhere to this stipulation only to be rewarded by refusal on the part of the police.
NCA Spokesperson Madock Chivasa expressed disgruntlement over the police actions.
"They did not give any specific reasons why we should not go ahead with our meeting. It is clear that we are dealing with an authoritarian system which is undemocratic and does not tolerate plurality, € said Chivasa.
The police's emerging pattern of consistently barring and disrupting the MDCs' and civil society meetings upon receiving appropriate notification, reinforces the widely held view that the ZRP is partisan and selective in its application of the law given that ZANU PF public events or meetings are not subject to similar obstructions.
Moreover, the Police Commissioner- General Augustine Chihuri's self-confessed affiliation to Zanu-PF lends credence to suspicions of police bias.
It is plausible that the continued embargo on political meetings facilitated by the ZRP could shrink the democratic space for other players, while Zanu-PF enjoys unbridled space, given that any breach of the police directives could lead to arrest on accusations of holding illegal public gatherings under POSA.
Since August 2012, police have arrested several civil society leaders and raided over eight Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), which are working to promote democracy, alleging illegal voter registration and possession of banned radios.