‘Right to protest is being curtailed’


‘Right to protest is being curtailed’

September 06 2006 at 07:22AM

The right to peaceful protest and demonstration was widely suppressed in South Africa, a report by the Freedom of Expression Institute said on Tuesday.

“There is widespread violations of the right to demonstrate in South Africa. Demonstrators are denied their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” the FXI said.

Activists opposing the government’s macro-economic policies and their communities’ slide into deeper poverty are finding themselves isolated and targeted by municipalities and law enforcement bodies.

The FXI said police were often ignorant of the Gatherings Act, or abused the act to prevent people from protesting and marching in public.

“Social justice movements such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum in Johannesburg and the Abahlali base Mjondolo (shack dwellers movement) in Durban are unfortunate examples whose gatherings are prohibited even before the due process provided in the act takes place.”

The FXI’s report emanated from protest statistics recorded during 2004 and 2005.

The report states that almost 1 000 of the 6 000 recorded protests were banned.

“The FXI’s findings were that many marches were deemed to be illegal because municipal police, in contravention of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, had simply banned them.

“Although the act holds the notion of a demonstration as a right and not as being contingent on the approval of the state, this right was often not respected by local authorities.”

The report further noted that violence often erupted when a march was banned.

The FXI has called for an “exhaustive, top-level” investigation into the conduct of police both before and during protest marches.

“The FXI report strengthens the demand for a broader discussion between government, the SAPS, the labour movement and civil society to review policies and guidelines under which the police operate during political and industrial demonstrations.”

This, according to the report, will end police brutality and prohibition of the right to march. – Sapa