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Zimbabwe police in fix

by Staff reporter
27 Jul 2020 at 08:51hrs | Views
LAW enforcement agents are struggling to balance respecting human rights and enforcing measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Zimbabwe Republic Police has said.

The coronavirus pandemic has soured relations between the police and civilians who accuse the law enforcement agents of heavy-handedness and brutal COVID-19 policing.
A number of civilians have been subjected to severe beatings and arbitrary arrests for allegedly violating COVID-19 lockdown measures.

On Thursday, national police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said 111 979 people had been arrested for violating COVID-19 lockdown measures which came into force on March 30.

Police have invited condemnation from various stakeholders for often resorting to terror tactics when enforcing the lockdown measures.

Analysts argued this had resulted in strained relations between civilians and the law enforcement agents.

"The danger with strained relations between the police and population in general is that people will then have a declined level of confidence in the police. It is never healthy for any society to have a strained relationship between the police and general populace," analyst Effie Ncube said.

In May, Matabeleland Collective (MC), an umbrella term of civic society organisations and clergy, petitioned the Home Affairs ministry demanding an investigation into reports of abuse of office by police "during times of conflict like this COVID-19 pandemic".

They warned of deterioration of relations between the civilians and police owing to the use of "Gukurahundi-style" COVID-19 policing measures "including tribal hatred targeting women and subjecting them to gender insensitive insults".

Last week, the trial of six Bulawayo officers facing charges of brutally attacking two Cowdray Park sisters for allegedly violating COVID-19 measure finally commenced after several false starts.

Nyathi told NewsDay that civilians were equally to blame, but admitted the law enforcement agents were pushed into a corner insofar as balancing the rights of the people and enforcing lockdown measures.

"The need to balance the interests of the people, rights of the people and policing in times of COVID-19 makes our job difficult when people have untoward attitudes against measures aimed at stopping the spread of the disease," Nyathi said on Friday.

"This issue is very tricky; as long as people are committing crimes, the police will have to move in and arrest the offenders. On the other hand, you have other civilians who do not commit crimes and support police efforts.

"It also boils down to attitudes, for example, we have a situation where people want to travel yet there is a curfew, but expect the police to allow them to pass through checkpoints. At the end of the day, if one does not want any hassles with the police, they should be law abiding citizens."

Analysts said only a reform of the country's police and re-training of officers were key towards improving relations between the police and the general citizenry.

"So it is extremely important that the relations are mended but you cannot mend the relations between the police and the population as long as the police is an extension of Zanu-PF and responsible for abuse of human rights as we have seen for many years," Ncube added.

"To mend the relations, you need to correct the politics in the country, you will need to remove Zanu-PF from power, and that is the only way relations between the police and civilians will get back on track. Before then, you need to retrain the police; there is a need for institutional reform to accompany any improvement in the relations between the police and the population."

Opposition parties and human rights groups have often called for the reform of the country's State security organs.

Gwanda-based commentator Bekezela Maduma Fuzwayo weighed in, saying the "government needs to urgently rebrand the police".

"The issue boils down to the way the government has presented the police to the citizens. Since the 2017 coup, the government has appeared not to be giving police the status that they should have. They have been reduced to implements of repression," Fuzwayo argued.

"This attitude has been dragged to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions where the police and soldiers are being used to harass citizens to adhere to the restrictions instead of educating and guiding them."

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Source - newsday