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Zimbabwe: Bill Proposed to Diminish Police Role in Regulating Public Gatherings

(Feb. 12, 2010) On February 3, 2010, legislation to amend the Public Order and Security Act [POSA] of 2001 was introduced in the Zimbabwean House of Assembly as a private member's bill. (New Bill Seeks to Limit Police Powers, THE HERALD, Feb. 4, 2010, available at The speaker of the House of Assembly has forwarded the bill to the Parliamentary Legal Committee for assessment of its conformity with the country's Constitution. (Id.) The Parliamentary Legal Committee is a committee of ten Members of the House of Assembly, appointed under section 40(A) of the Zimbabwean Constitution and Standing Order 199, with the mandate to examine the constitutionality of every bill. (Zimbabwean Parliament portal, (last visited Feb. 5, 2010).)

If passed, the bill would reduce police powers to regulate public gatherings and meetings as mandated by the POSA. The current law requires that organizers of public gatherings, which include public demonstrations and public meetings, give police at least four days' notice in writing or else be subject to fines and/or imprisonment. (Public Order and Security Act No. 1 of 2002, Cap. 11:17, §24 (Harare, Government Printer, 2002).) In addition, the POSA gives the police a host of discretionary powers to impose limitations on the manner in which the public gatherings are conducted. (Id., §25.) The new bill limits police involvement in regulating public gatherings by restricting the definition of “public demonstrations” to demonstrations that are large enough to cause public disorder, a serious breach of the peace, or substantial obstruction of streets to be “a reasonable possibility.” (THE HERALD, supra.) Under the current law, a public gathering is defined as:

a procession, gathering or assembly in a public place of persons and additionally, or alternatively, of vehicles, where the gathering is in pursuit of a common purpose of demonstrating support for, or opposition to, any person, matter or thing, whether or not the gathering is spontaneous or is confined to persons who are members of a particular organization, association or other body or to persons who have been invited to attend. (POSA, supra, §2.)

The bill also redefines the term “public meetings” and puts their administration outside the domain of the POSA. (THE HERALD, supra.) The bill defines the term “public meetings” as “domestic meetings of organizations such as political parties and trade unions” (id.); under the current law, a public meeting is defined as “any meeting in a public place or meeting which the public or any section of the public is permitted to attend, whether on payment or otherwise.” (POSA, supra, §2.) The bill also introduces an emergency judicial review process against prohibitions to conduct public gatherings. (THE HERALD, supra.)

The author of the bill, Movement for Democratic Change Chief Whip Innocent Gonese, summarized the purpose of the bill as an attempt to make sure that the regulation of public gatherings does not interfere with Zimbabweans' “fundamental democratic right to express themselves through the medium of peaceful assembly and association.” (Id.) Critics of the bill, however, such as Secretary of Home Affairs, Melusi Matshiya, believe that, if enacted, the bill would render the police's public order operations ineffective. (Id.)