Update 28 February 2013, 15:00: Since this article's original publication at 10:00, RNW received the following statement from Harare's Media Centre programmes officer Charles Saki. For more details about the rescheduled debate, see the Media Centre's Facebook page.
The police denied us clearance [for the debate] on the grounds that they needed four days notification. However, we made an application and were cleared [for] 21 February 2013, but we had to postpone the meeting because our speakers had not confirmed. We informed the police of our decision to postpone and they said it was fine as long as we maintained the same topic.
On the day of the meeting, yesterday, we were shocked to receive a clearance letter with the earlier date (21 February 2013). After realizing that the date was wrong, we called [the police] and they said that we had to reapply and they needed four days' notice. They went on to say that the Media Centre was not supposed to hold the meeting and they would take appropriate action if we did.
So that then informed our decision to cancel the debate at the eleventh hour. We informed the panelists of the cancellation and we had to turn members of the public away. They came to check if we had gone ahead with the meeting and they left with no incident upon realizing that we had not do so. We will reconvene the meeting and debate the same topic as planned.
Originally published article begins here:
The police have yet again come under heavy criticism after blocking a public meeting organized by the Media Centre in Harare on Wednesday. The public debate on the draft constitution was to include senior members of Zanu-PF, the MDC formations, ZAPU, Mavambo Dawn/Kusile political parties and the National Constitutional Assembly.
By Violet Gonda as published by our partner SW Radio Africa
One of the scheduled speakers, president of the MDC-99 Job Sikhala, said he was notified by the Media Center on the morning of the discussion and told that the police had banned the indaba.
Sikhala told SW Radio Africa he was told the police banned the meeting for a number of reasons including the issue of how panelists were selected. The police also said they are “no longer allowing public meetings to be convened by NGOs outside the arrangements of government”.
Talking about the popularity of meetings arranged by civic groups Sikhala said: “They are extremely popular. Zimbabweans are anxious to hear how their country is going to move forward. These are well advertised platforms for Zimbabweans to express their democratic views and the police officers are now becoming more and more dangerous in curtailing the democratic discourse in our country.”
Sikhala urged the NGOs to challenge this latest police ban in the courts and also said they must “start organizing demonstrations against such clampdowns.”
Media Centre programmes officer Charles Saki confirmed the meeting had been cancelled even though they had given the police advance notice. The organization is planning to organize the event again in a few days.
A law that police frequently use to silence the masses is the repressive Public Order and Security Act. Recently the parliamentary watchdog, Bill Watch, issued a report about the MDC-T Mutare Central legislator, Innocent Gonese, who tried to revive the POSA Amendment bill in the Senate. After over an hour of debate a vote was taken and Gonese’s motion was rejected by 28 votes to 17. Bill Watch said the vote illustrates Zanu-PF’s domination of the Senate; the Chiefs who voted followed the ZANU-PF lead.
However, Bill Watch said this is not necessarily the end of the bill saying: “Gonese is to table a motion in the House of Assembly asking that the Bill, as passed by the House in December 2009, be sent to the President for assent, despite the Senate’s rejection of his motion.”
Read the full article here.