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Public Meetings Bill passed

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Bongiwe Zihlangu

 

 

 

 

MASERU — Parliament on Friday unanimously passed a watered-down Public Meetings and Processions Bill 2009 that critics say is undemocratic.

In his submissions to parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla said at least 21 amendments had been made on the original version of the controversial Bill.

But the Bill was passed amid yet more drama as the opposition walked out in protest over the Bill.

MPs from opposition parties walked out of parliament during the second reading of the Bill on Wednesday and Thursday.

The MPs who staged the walk-out were from the Lesotho People’s Congress, the Marematlou Freedom Party, the All Basotho Convention and the Lesotho Workers Party.

MPs from Senkatana party and the Basotho National Party (BNP) did not join the walk-out.

They said they did not walk out because they wanted to push for their proposed amendments to be included in the Bill.

But on Friday the MPs were back in parliament after realising that some of the amendments they were fiercely pushing for adoption had been incorporated into the law in their absence.

The Bill says any person wishing to hold a public meeting or procession in an urban area should first make a written application for permission to “an officer in command of police in the area where the public meeting or procession” is to be held.

The proposed law also says “a person wishing to hold a public meeting or procession in an area that is not urban shall at least within seven days before holding the public meeting or procession, make a written application for permission to hold the procession or meeting, either to the headman or representative of the headman of the area the meeting or procession is intended to be held”.

The Sunday Express understands that this section of the law has now been amended.

Public meetings and processions in rural areas no longer require an application for permission to the headman but only a letter of notification to the chief of the area.

The original Bill said “a person who commits an offence under this section is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M10 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or both”.

This section has also been amended.

The courts of law have now been left with the discretion to determine the fines to be imposed on individuals who contravene the law.

The Bill was first tabled in parliament in October last year, raising a storm in parliament from the opposition benches.

The opposition said if the Bill was passed in its form then it would severely curtail the people’s right to assemble freely.

Civic groups also lambasted the Bill as draconian.

BNP legislator Seabata Thabisi, lashed out at the architects of the Bill saying the proposed law was the “exact replica of the BNP’s Internal Security Act 1984”.

Critics say the Internal Security Act 1984 was used by the then BNP government to stifle political freedom and clamp down on government opponents.

It was repealed in 1993.

Thabisi, who is a member of the committee tasked with the Public Meetings and Processions Bill 2009, told the Sunday Express yesterday that although he was not entirely happy with the Bill, the opposition had at least “made some headway” in amending sections of the Bill.

“We decided not to walk out with our opposition counterparts because we felt we had to have our voice heard,” Thabisi said.

“We wanted to ensure that our amendments were included in the Bill. I must say I am happy that some (of these amendments) were included.

“One cannot expect to have everything go your way when negotiating.”

He however lamented that the Bill did not hold “any advantages for the general public”.

“The minister (Lehohla) justified the Bill by saying if passed into law it would give the government more power and control, especially because lately security issues in the country have become very sensitive,” Thabisi said.

Thabisi said the Bill would be handed over to the Senate next week “but they will not attend to it just yet because they are still busy with the Land Bill 2009”.

He said he expected the Bill to be signed into law after the winter break.

 

 

 

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