Zimbabwe court upholds Harare protest ban despite ‘right to protest’

A High Court in Zimbabwe on Tuesday upheld a month-long police ban on protests in the capital, Harare. The protest ban was on the grounds that it was necessary to preserve peace, a lawyer representing opposition activists said.

The police in the past three months have clashed with different categories of protesters in the southern African nation where political tension is rising. Anti-government protests have been rampant in the months leading to the police ban.

Police announced ban on public demonstrations until Oct. 15 following anti-government protests that led to violent clashes with police. The president, Robert Mugabe, had chastised the judiciary for allowing violent protests to go on in the country.

Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and prominent lawyer, said Judge President George Chiweshe had in his ruling dismissed the application to overturn the police ban.

Biti said the judge, while accepting that the law used by the police violated individual rights allowing peaceful demonstrations, it was nonetheless justified in order to protect property and ensure public peace.

“The court’s rationale is that while the section of the law that allows police to ban protests was in breach of fundamental rights, it was justifiable in a democratic society,” Biti said.

In early September, a High Court judge struck down a previous ban on public protests, saying police did not follow procedure and had violated the constitution.

Biti disclosed that he would meet other human rights lawyers on Wednesday to decide whether to appeal the court’s ruling at the Supreme Court or launch a challenge at the Constitutional Court.

Angered by a jobless rate above 80 percent, corruption and the worst fiscal crunch and cash shortages since the adoption of the U.S. dollar in 2009, many Zimbabweans have taken to social media to organise anti-government activities.