Matabeleland North Police Block ZimRights Meeting, In 'Outrageous' Implementation of New venue Consent Letter Requirements

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) has become one of the first casualties of a new illegal condition being enforced by police in order for organizations to be cleared to have meetings in communities. The condition, which is an addition to requirements under POSA to give Police Notice of intention to hold meetings, is that organizers must be in possession of a letter from providers of a venue for meeting ascertaining that the organization had indeed hired it.

ZimRights, had its meeting in Sipepa, Matabeleland North halted by police, who cited the absence of a "free venue € as the reason. The meeting was supposed to take place on Tuesday the 4th September 2012.

The halting of the meeting, which is reported to have happened at the instigation and instruction the Police Chief Superintendent for the region, Mr Govo, came as a shock to ZimRights, which had secured Sipepa Rest Camp as a venue already. Mr Govo is reported to have said that another group had already taken the venue that Zimbabwe Human Rights Association intended to use, but refused to disclose this "other group € even when confronted with documentary evidence by ZimRights officials which showed that they had the right and permission from the requisite authorities to use the venue.

Police Chief Superintendent Govo has a suspicious history with ZIMRIGHTS after he arrested the Bulawayo ZimRights team in May last year over an almost similar issue.
Speaking on the new requirements to the media over the weekend, and prior to the event under report, ZimRights Director, Mr. Okay Machisa had blasted the move by police to require a letter from venue providers, arguing that it was an attempt by some not so hidden political hands to further close democratic space through unwarranted police interference and action none policing matters.

Mr. Machisa further argued that actions betrayed the police as either over zealous or failing to "Interpret POSA € at the instigation of political actors and interests. He declared that the additional requirements were meant to intimidate both Civic actors and Service providers ahead of possible elections and to hinder popular participation.

The Tuesday meeting had been scheduled at the request of the Sipepa community, and was supposed to focus on domestic and gender based violence, after there had been a recent sharp increase in cases of domestic violence within the community.
In a statement, ZimRights condemned the police's behaviour and demanded the opening up of the democratic space. It inferred that what the police did amounted to suppression of freedoms of association and assembly, especially because the police, they said, had no business being involved in the procurement of venues for meeting of this nature.

Speaking on the same issue, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Spokesperson, Thabani Nyoni, described the new requirements and actions by the police in the ZimRights incident as 'outrageous'. Mr. Nyoni reiterated that the move was " a further assault on freedoms of association, speech and access to information by some rogue elements in government using the police. €


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