By Daniel Chigundu
Political activist Paddington Japajapa has told Parliament that the military should not be given any role in dealing with civilian demonstrations.
The last time the military was called in to help deal with demonstrations in the country was is in August 2018 and in January this year where some civilians ended up losing their lives.
Speaking during the public hearing of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, Japajapa said the military should only be called in when dealing with dissidents and armed groups and not unarmed civilians.
“The President is the only one that deploys the army but in this country, we saw the army was deployed by somebody who is not President of this country.
“Correspondences show that the President kept quiet after he was requested by Minister of Defence to deploy the army and we saw tanks coming from Inkomo Barracks and people were killed in this country.
“So we are saying this Bill must not allow the army to come anywhere near where there are demonstrations its either we employ enough police personnel, who are well equipped to deal with demonstrations and unless if we are dealing with the issues of dissidents or armed gangs then the army can come in.
“But beside the issue of armed gangs, when people are demonstrating let it be the use of the police force, let us equip our police force sufficiently, give then enough resources you can order millions of teargas canisters, equip them with more water cannons so that they can deal with demonstrators without using force,” he said.
Other participants proposed changes to the number of people who constitute a public meeting from the proposed 15 to at least somewhere around 50 people. There were also calls to reduce the number of days required when one is giving the notice to hold a public meeting or a demonstration with others proposing between 48 hours and 3 days.
One legal practitioner said the Bill is in a way discoursing demonstrations by imposing criminal liabilities and hefty fines for those who would have called for demonstrations that will end up being violent.
“The other concern is that with regards to civil liability on convener of public gathering, this MOPO is trying to curtail people from demonstration or to exercise those constitutional rights.
“Because if you are creating more criminal liabilities, civil liabilities and all those impositions of levels of hefty fines and sentencing in a way you are curtailing that freedom or those rights provided in the constitution,” she said.
Speaking at the same occasion, Zanu PF activist Mavis Gumbo said the Bill is perfect in its current condition, adding that it will help to prevent violent demonstrations that end up destroying property and lives.
It, however, remains to be seen if the committee will take the peoples’ view on board when they eventually make their report which will be tabled in the National Assembly during the Bill’s Second Reading.
In previous times people have complained that their views are usually ignored when the committee eventually reports to the National Assembly a development that has seen many of them shunning the meetings.