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Taxi operators appeal protest ban

 

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane and ’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Maseru Regional Taxi Operators (MRTO) on Friday filed an urgent High Court application seeking to overturn a police decision to bar a coalition of civic groups from staging a protest march this week.

The coalition had planned to stage a stay away on Thursday and a protest march aimed at pressuring the government into “speedily” implementing recommendations made by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) commission of inquiry into Lesotho’s instability. The protest march was scheduled to start from the main Convention Centre to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office where they would have submitted a list of grievances.

The coalition of civic groups is under the umbrella of the “Alliance of Non-State Actors” and consists of Maseru Region Taxi Operators, Steering Committee (representing ‘4+1’ taxis), Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, trade unions including Lentsoe la Sechaba, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, United Textile Employees, and businesses represented by the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The police had earlier on Friday turned down the alliance’s application for the march, arguing that the request did not meet requirements of the law.

In a letter written to MRTO, Maseru Urban District Commissioner, Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola, said in part: “I wish to bring to your attention that your request falls squarely under the guidance of Public Meetings and Processions Act of 2010 and as such section 3(1) of the Act is relevantly applicable to your request.

“You will definitely agree with me that your request does not therefore meet the requirements of section 3(1) of the Act (with) regard to the number of days required by law.

“I therefore humbly advise you to reschedule your application so as to comply with the requirements of the section mentioned above. The office of Maseru Urban Police District Commissioner is readily available and opened for any further considerations in this matter.”

The section in question requires any person intending to hold a public meeting or procession to give at least seven days’ notice to the police.

However, MRTO argued in court papers filed by its lawyer, Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, that their application met the seven-day notice requirement.

In his affidavit, MRTO Chairman, Mokete Jonase, states that they informed the police on 4 May 2016 of their intention to hold a protest March on Thursday.

“With respect, it does not take a rocket scientist to note that we have given the appropriate notice,” Mr Jonase notes.

“In the circumstances, the decision of first respondent (District Commissioner Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola) is premised on a material mistake of fact. The first respondent has clearly miscalculated the seven day period provided for under the Act.”

Commissioner of Police, Molahlehi Letsoepa, and Attorney General, Tšokolo Makhethe, are cited as second and third respondents respectively, in the matter.

Mr Jonase also argues the matter was “extremely urgent” since the march is slated for Thursday. He further states that in anticipation that permission would be granted and “considering that the MRTO had complied with the requirements of the law”, they had already made preparations.

The march, says Mr Jonase, is supported by other several stakeholders who “include both local and international NGOs (non-governmental organisations), trade unions and the larger business community.

“Thus all relevant stakeholders have already put aside their activities for 12 May 2016 in order to be part of the demonstration. We also expect a larger number of international observers and media houses that we have invited and who have already made their bookings and reservations,” he says.

“Furthermore, members of the applicant have already declined business opportunities for the 12th May 2016 in anticipation of the procession and should the procession not proceed as scheduled, it would mean that there would be another business to lose in future.”

He adds that the decision by the police was “so wrong” it could not be allowed to stand and “should accordingly be set aside”.

In their certificate of urgency, the taxi operators also pray that the court among others order the police to file their answering affidavits before 10am yesterday and that the decision to bar the protest march be “set aside”. However, it was yet to be established by the Sunday Express if the police filed their answering affidavit at the time of going to press.

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