The arrest and detention by the police of Dr L. Madhuku and several members of the NCA on 22 October 2003 is the latest manifestation of the application and utilization of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to stifle freedom of expression, association and movement in Zimbabwe.
Members of the NCA were demonstrating peacefully in Africa Unity Square in Harare on 22 October 2003 for a much needed democratic constitution and in protest against the catastrophic and continued decline in the Zimbabwean economy.
It is believed something like 400 people were arrested and detained in the Harare Central Police Station, that many were assaulted and that on the night of 22 October 2003, some were released without charge and were dumped along the Airport Road by the police.
A group of approximately 9 Human Rights lawyers was denied access to the persons arrested and ultimately the lawyers were pushed out into the road by the Riot Police. Eventually, late in the evening of 22 October 2003, one of the lawyers was able to see Dr Madhuku, Chairman of the NCA.
It is understood that seventy eight members of the NCA were initially charged under Section 19 of POSA entitled “Gatherings conducive to riot, disorder or intolerance”. However, the charge was later reduced to that of obstructing traffic under the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the demonstrators were made to pay fines of $5 000.00 to secure their freedom. Dr Madhuku together with the NCA as an organisation has been charged under Section 24 for not having given four days written notice to hold a gathering.
Following on the recent arrest and assault by the police of human rights lawyer Ms B Mtetwa, this latest action by the police gives continuing evidence of how the State contrives to silence democratic activity in Zimbabwe even against the overwhelming evidence of the decline, not only of the economy, but also of democracy itself in Zimbabwe.
The enforcement of repressive legislation, combined with the disregard by the police for the constitutional rights of individuals, has reached an alarming and totally unacceptable level in the country and must be redressed as a matter of the utmost urgency.