HARARE residents yesterday dismissed the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill (MOPA), describing it as repressive and an attempt to protect government and law enforcement agents who are being given more powers in the proposed law.

They said this during public hearings on MOPA, which were jointly hosted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Peace and Security at the Harare City Sports Centre.

Manicaland senator Douglas Mwonzora (MDC Alliance) told participants that the Bill, which was brought before Parliament by Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema, sought to make provisions regarding public peace, security and order, as well as to replace the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

A member of the public, Bernard Ncube, said MOPA was worse than POSA.

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“This law has nothing to do with protecting citizens at all and in most clauses, it is aimed at protecting the leaders against disgruntled citizens,” he said.

“It fails to take into account that if people protest, it is because something is wrong pertaining to their rights. If possible, the whole Bill must be returned to the Home Affairs minister – and we are not saying amend it, we are saying we do not want the whole Bill because why should we continue applying to be allowed to demonstrate, which is enshrined in the constitution?”

Zimbabwe Centre for Equal Opportunities president Paddington Japajapa said the Bill should actually ban police heavy-handedness during demonstrations and prescribe the use of minimum force to disperse rowdy crowds.

“The Bill should not allow the army near any demonstrations. Only the police must be deployed because the army is trained to kill and for war. The army should be sent only when we are dealing with dissidents or armed gangs and not demonstrations,” Japajapa said.

“You should train, equip and empower the police, and you can purchase millions of water canisters or teargas, but we are saying no to the provision that the President can deploy the army on demonstrators.”

Macdonald Moyo, a researcher with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said clause 13 of MOPA, which permits the use of firearms, would cause more people to be killed during demonstrations.

He said police had other means of dispersing people in the event of a violent protest.

A public interest lawyer, Veronica Zano, was concerned about the classification of a public meeting in the Bill, which stipulates that it is a gathering of 15 or more people, who must apply to the police for permission to hold a public meeting.