Statement on National Shutdown and the subsequent disturbances

The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has noted with concern the unfolding events after the national shutdown, called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), to protest against the increase in fuel prices and the general economic miasma in the country.

The Law Society recognises the right to demonstrate as a fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right for citizens as enshrined in section 59 of the Constitution. However, we hasten to remind citizens of Zimbabwe that such right should be exercised with due regard to the rights of others and within the confines of the law.

On Monday 14 January, the national shutdown began with relatively isolated reports of civil disobedience marked by the barricading of major roads particularly leading into Harare and Bulawayo. Unfortunately, the protests later degenerated and became violent. This saw motorists, commuter omnibus drivers and citizens not participating in the protests being attacked. There were incidents of destruction of property and looting. Retail shops, fuel stations and police stations were targeted by the protestors. We strongly condemn these acts of violence and wanton destruction of property and unprovoked attacks on other citizens who were undertaking their private enterprise.

We regret the reported loss of lives due to the clashes between protestors and members of security forces. A lot more people are reported to have been injured. This needless loss of lives and injuries is regretted and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. In bringing the perpetrators to justice the state must however ensure that due process and fair administrative justice is observed as enshrined in section 68 of the Constitution.

There are disturbing reports that members of the security forces have been breaking into people’s homes indiscriminately and physically assaulting them. The concept of collective punishment is unacceptable in a democratic civilised society. This is worse when the punishment is meted by those who are supposed to investigate crimes and in the absence of due process. The state has a duty to protect citizens, including those suspected of committing crimes. The criminal justice system recognises the presumption of innocence for all accused persons. Indiscriminate assault of suspects by security forces is deplorable and is strongly condemned by the Law Society and all right thinking people.

This coming after the events of 1 August is disconcerting. These acts inevitably characterise the country as a violent state and casts a reversal of democratic values envisaged in the Constitution.

Further, while not condoning barbaric ways of expressing oneself, the Law Society believes it is pertinent for the police to always use proportionate force to quell violence. The tendency to use excessive force appears to be the default position for the security forces. This does not bode well for a country trying to project itself as progressive and open for business.

The Law Society is particularly disturbed by the subsequent shutdown of internet as a response to this wave of the protests as seen by a complete disabling of several social media platforms and other functionalities that are supported by internet. The shutdown was at the Minister in the President’s Office responsible for State Security. The government action clearly negated the citizens’ right to information. In a regrettable twist of irony, the government’s action actually abetted the shutdown. Such heavy handedness by government is not only shocking by is a clear disregard of the constitutional fundamentals.

Inevitably a lot of business opportunities and transactions were affected by this irrational decision. The decision was not only poor in economic sense, but has signs of despotism distasteful in a country which is founded on the respect of the supremacy of the constitution, fundamental human rights and freedoms and good governance.

The Law Society calls upon government to desist from making such drastic and rushed decisions against its citizens, which will not only affect the economy, but pitch the country badly within the international community. The Law Society looks forward to an era of complete constitutionalism, respect and observation of the rule of law and human rights.

The Law Society advocates for the right to free expression of oneself. It however cautions against the irresponsible use of social media and violation of the law.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe remains committed to the rule of law and justice.

Source: The Law Society of Zimbabwe