Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Unlawful assembly, unlawful cops

just, watched the video of GBM arguing with cops in Kasama on what constitutes unlawful assembly. The argument really cracked my ageing ribs. GBM clearly put unlawful assembly under the microscope. And I no longer have doubt in my mind that the police in the country of my birth do not only misapply archaic colonial statutes, but they also simply do not understand them. Can’t blame them anyway, the British colonial masters that understood them left a long time ago. Sic.

I have here transcribed the argument.

Cop: You are addressing the people. You are addressing the people. There is a gathering there.
GBM: If you see. How many people?
Cop: There are many. Because if….
GBM: How many? What is a rally?
Cop: Unlawful assembly
GBM: Unlawful assembly?
Cop: Unlawful assembly. Three or more than people when they assemble.
GBM: When they assemble?
Cop: Yes.
GBM: So I will not be greeting people even right now in the hospital. Even if they greet me I won’t stop.
Cop: If it is greeting people, you can greet people. But not mean gathering people like that.
GBM: But its you, you are saying I am a public figure. So wherever I stop, even now wherever I will stop they will come. So what should I do? So I should lock myself in the house?
Cop: No, no. You should not lock yourself in the house.. Any way let it be off camera. What time? Maybe we move to the office.
GBM: No. I am not coming.
Cop: Because I am trying to explain…
GBM: I am not coming to your office. If you want, come and arrest me at my house. Thing is that I know that addressing a rally without a permit is an offence. But going in a market to go and buy, I am not supposed to get permission.
Cop: Buying honourable is something which is different.
GBM: Yes.
Cop: That is what I am trying to say. But where you carry, you have a very big following, people. All these people are following.
GBM: Precisely, its only under five minutes now. Even wherever I will go. Unless, maybe I should ask for fifty permits, because even (muffled) if I go to Shoprite now it will be the same. But people want me to greet them, so I should just say no because of..
Cop: No. Honourable greeting is different. Where you go and just greet someone, but here you were addressing people, you were talking to them.
GBM: Yes.
Cop: Yes, that is unlawful assembly.
GBM: So I should just say hello and off I go.
Cop: Yes. Better that way.
GBM: Okay. We will do that.
Cop: But, not now, here you know
GBM: No, no, we are going.
Cop: Yes, honourable.
GBM: We are going somewhere. But the gist of the matter is that we are going to stop where we feel, because I feel that it’s my birthright to stop wherever I want to. No one will stop me. If you want, you arrest me for stopping where I want to stop.
Cop: And that is what we are saying about (muffled), not assemble and start addressing
GBM: Yeah, but I am going to, no I won’t address people but I will greet people.
[End GBM remarks part inaudible]

Something about this conversation was clearly odd, if not absurd. So I decided to revisit the law on unlawful assembly. And here is what the law says:-

Section 74, The Penal Code Act CAP 87 of the Laws of Zambia
Definition of unlawful assembly. (1) When three or more persons assemble with intent to commit an offence, or being assembled with intent to carry out some common purpose, conduct themselves in such a manner as to cause persons in the neighbourhood reasonably to fear that the persons so assembled will commit a breach of the peace, or will by such assembly needlessly and without any reasonable occasion provoke other persons to commit a breach of the peace, they are an unlawful assembly. It is immaterial that the original assembling was lawful if, being assembled, they conduct themselves with a common purpose in such a manner as aforesaid.

The key terms in this law are threefold: - intent to commit an offence; intent to cause fear as a breach of peace can be likely; and, likelihood that the assembly will provoke others to breach the peace.

On all three counts, the senior police officer did not at anytime in the conversation allude to how in talking to people or addressing a gathering, GBM intended to commit an offence, intended to cause fear or that there was a likelihood that the assembly would provoke others.

 Exactly, why didn’t the officer do so? Is it because he does not understand this law? Or perhaps, he knew that GBM did not commit an offence, but was simply acting on instructions. And in his rush to please, he got confused and cited the wrong statute.

The correct statute he should have cited is the section in the Public Order Act which regulates the right to assemble. The Act, as now amended, provides that any person intending to assemble a public meeting, or procession, should notify law enforcement authorities in writing of such intent seven days before the meeting. This GBM knew and he ably educated the police officer. Though, he too, misinterpreted “notify” to mean “seek permission”!

In retrospect, this issue is a travesty of reason and simply a case of police harassment of opposition political party leaders. It was the perfect evidence of the unnecessary batrachomyomachia (silly altercation) from State agents that individuals in this country frequently face.

My verdict - The police were unlawful.

Pax vobiscum.