New Era (Windhoek)

14 December 2012

Namibia: Concerned Group Wants 'political Solution'? Claim Civil Liberties Suppressed

Article Views (non — The 'Caprivi Concerned Group' has called on President Hifikepunye Pohamba to intervene to put an end to what it says is the suppression of its civil liberties.

The group alleges that its right to engage in peaceful protest action, aimed at seeking a permanent political solution to the Caprivi treason trial and what it claims is the 'Caprivi political dispute,' is being suppressed. The group made the appeal in a recently issued press statement, which is in possession of New Era.

"We would like to express our dissatisfaction and regret in the manner in which the Namibian police handled our latest request to peacefully protest and therefore call upon the President of Namibia, His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba to intervene," the group said.

The general secretary of the little-known concerned group, which appears to harbour separatist ambitions, Edwin Samati, said he was not happy with the Namibian police, particularly with the Inspector General, Sebastian Ndeitunga, accusing him of "dragging his feet" and failing to provide feedback after an initially planned peaceful protest was postponed.

"We requested a peaceful demonstration which was supposed to be held on the 23rd of November 2012, about two weeks in advance. After inquiry, we received a telephonic response from the regional commander of the Caprivi Region, Commissioner Bollen Sankwasa [saying] the Inspector General, Sebastian Ndeitunga, could not understand the main aim of the requested demonstration in the notification letter," said Samati.

"We simplified the letter and postponed the demonstration to the 30th of November 2012. Upon inquiry, we were told the inspector is still waiting for legal advice from the Attorney General. The planned date has passed and we have not received any response to date," lamented Samati.

Samati further believes denying the group its democratic right to assemble and engage in peaceful protest action may have repercussions and is tantamount to stifling their constitutional rights.

"We do not want to conclude that the Namibian police have denied us the right to peacefully assemble and freedom of expression as they did on April 12, 2012 because we have not received any written response to that effect thus far. The Head of State, Inspector General and all human rights organisations or activists should imagine the social and political implications which will arise if we protest with our big and colourful banners [in the] streets without police authority," cautioned Samati.

With the treason trial still dragging on since 1999 amid simmering discontent by the group, and its growing desire and attempts to fight for the release of all the treason suspects, Samati is accusing the Minister of Safety and Security, the Attorney General and the Inspector General of the Namibian police of failing to execute their duties fairly and timeously.

"The Attorney General, the Minister of Safety and Security and the Inspector General ... in our view have failed to competitively and fairly execute their duties on time, risking public disorder and national peace and stability. They both should have considered the nature and [gravity] of the issues we are concerned about ... which involve desperate family members of those who are languishing in prison and those suffering in exile for about fourteen years now," said Samati.

Asked about what the group intends to achieve with the peaceful protest, Samati said misconceptions have dented the true aims of the group, which he says is seeking a peaceful resolution of the "Caprivi political dispute", including the unconditional release of those suspected of involvement in the failed secession attempt.

"In April we wanted to hand over a petition but we were refused. What we want is the unconditional release of people put in jail or an out of court settlement or negotiations between the leaders of UDP and the Namibian government," said Samati.

In the notification letter sent to the regional commander of the police seen by New Era, the group put the authorities on notice, saying failure to comply with its demands would result in peaceful protests after seven days. The group, which consists of 15 core members, plans to hand over a petition to Caprivi Governor Lawrence Sampofu, and Samati is adamant many sympathisers and supporters would join in the protest action.

"The committee is made up of 15 members, but we have a lot of people who will escort the group when handing over the petition. I am not in a position to disclose the number of people now," said Samati.

Apart from the release of all treason trial suspects and the call for the return of those granted political asylum elsewhere, the group is also calling for a referendum on the political status of the region. It issued a similar call in June this year. "It is through dialogue that we think the Namibian government would agree to a referendum on Caprivi," Samati emphasised.

Caprivi Governor Sampofu confirmed the planned demonstration, but maintains that if the group is granted permission by the police he has no problem with such a protest.

"I was briefed by the police that this group is planning a demonstration. It depends on the Inspector General of the police - if they are given the go-ahead, I have no problem. I also understand they were threatening to stage demonstrations every Sunday if their demands are not met," said the regional governor.

Caprivi Police Regional Commander Bollen Sankwasa was adamant that a response from the Inspector General would be given soon and called for patience. "Yes, they wrote a letter indicating they want to stage a demonstration. I forward such requests to our headquarters in Windhoek and the Inspector General is the one who approves. They should be patient as the Inspector General is still seeking legal advice. Constitutionally, people are allowed to demonstrate, but we have to know [whether] this is a political case, therefore it may take time," he said.

However Sankwasa, without disclosing steps to be taken, advised against any illegal protests.

On August 02, 1999 the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) launched unanticipated attacks on an army base, a border post and the police station of Katima Mulilo, including the Silozi language radio station. In the fighting that followed between rebels and government forces, 14 people were killed.

A state of emergency was declared in the region, and the government arrested alleged CLA supporters, leading to the protracted Caprivi treason trial. Many of those suspected of involvement, including the leaders of the secession attempt, fled into exile.

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