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Are we in a state of emergency?

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Botswana Police Service is beingpoliticized. The government has inthe recent past used the police tofi ght political battles. Recently the police were dispatched to suppress the right of Limkokwing students to assemble, protestand petition. Following the class boycott by the said university students, there werereports that police brutally suppressed students’ peaceful demonstrations. Students were arrested, beaten and harassed by the police for voicing out their concerns over the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and their institution’s management handling of their book allowance. Over the weekend, Botswana Movement for Democracy Youth League (BMDYL) members were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by the police leading to arbitrary arrests and serious injuries.

 

The matter related to a socio-political get together which the police disrupted. The same have been denied a permit in February in which they requested to march duringthe budget proposal presentation bythe Minister of Finance and Development Planning. Opposition political parties and other civic organisations struggle to get permits to assemble and march from the police, especially when the course they are pursuing is perceived to be detrimental to the ruling party and government. The recent developments suggest that the state is hell bent on infringing on the freedomsand liberties of citizens, in particularfreedom of assembly, association andexpression. A curfew has been imposed;Batswana are living in a police state. It is as if there is a state of emergency. More ofthese incidents of police brutality in protestsshould be expected as 2014 general elections nears. The state has in the past not hesitated to deploy the army and the police to harshly quell industrial actions, students’ demonstrations and other forms of popular protests by political parties, civil society and youth movements.

 

The police often refusespermit for such demonstrations under the guise of staff shortage. This is a substantive violation of the constitutional right toassemble and freedom of expression. SegametsiMogomotsi 1995 uprisings andthe recent 2011 two months public sectorstrike protects are instructive of the use ofthe police by the powers that be to pursue political objectives. In terms of the Penal Code and otherlaws, the police, as a law enforcementagency, have been granted the freedom ofusing reasonable coercive force to quelluprisings, effect arrests and ensure general public order. Whereas the authority to apply such force is not necessarily a problem, its appropriate application is the fundamental problem of police delinquency. The right to assemble, protest and petitionis fundamental in a democracy. It is worth noting that many of the democracies and human rights enjoyed today are a direct result of popular protests by the masses of the people who were prepared to go onto the streets to make their voice heard. Protests by students, parties and civil society are vital in shaping public policy. That students, like workers and civic groups, continue to face intimidation for exercising their right to organize and make their voices heard in the twenty-first century Botswana shows that democracy is regressing at an alarming rate.

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