Namibia: Bittersweet Victory for Zoo Park Protesters

Charges against 26 protesters who were detained on Saturday in Windhoek while protesting against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) were dropped yesterday - with some calling it a bittersweet victory.

Protestors on Saturday had to scatter after members of the Special Reserve Force and the Namibian Police threw tear gas and shot rubber bullets at them, leading to the detaining of some of them.

Those detained on Saturday were to appear in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court yesterday morning.

After over four hours at the court, charges were dropped by the prosecutor general.

The People's Litigation Centre confirmed all charges against the group of protesters have been dropped. One of the lawyers representing the group, Henry Shimutwikeni, when asked why the charges were dropped, only offered to say after the prosecutor general considered the matter, it was decided to drop the charges.

Samuel Ndungula, one of the protesters, yesterday said the dropped charges were a bittersweet moment for them as they did not have the opportunity to expose the police's abuse of power.

"We did not have a court proceeding to use as a platform to highlight the type of power police officers feel they have, but ultimately, I am excited I do not have to go through it," he said.

Ndungula said the win validates the position that protesters were not doing anything illegal, although he was disappointed in the police's unnecessary use of force against them.

He said the demonstrators' demands are clear: They want the government to declare a state of emergency due to SGBV and also come up with mechanisms to deal with perpetrators.

"We still want them to recall the gender minister [Doreen Sioka] as she does not represent the issues women deal with, and finally, we want the restructuring of the police when it comes to handling such issues," he said.

Esther Eino, another protester who was detained, said she was relieved that the charges were dropped, yet frustrated.

"We are not protesting for anything that's wrong; we are standing for something, voicing ourselves. [Missing] women must be found, and it is not okay for a docket to be missing," she said.

Meanwhile, one of the minors who were detained, said she missed school to hear her fate, and was happy that the charges were dropped.

"I am going to continue supporting and standing up for the victims and the deceased, who did not get proper justice," she said.

PROTESTS UNPROCEDURAL

Namibian Police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga said the ongoing countrywide protests against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) were unprocedural from the start.

He made these remarks in a statement issued yesterday in response to a series of protests which started on Thursday, as well as to the detention of protesters and some journalists on Saturday.

Ndeitunga said citizens have the right to air their grievances, but that this must be done lawfully.

"Society need not and should not resort to anarchy and lawlessness in a country where the rule of law reigns supreme," he said.

He said peaceful public gatherings are recognised as an important and acceptable form of public expression, but should be conducted within reasonable restrictions of the law.

Furthermore, he said, the police and the Special Reserve Force were present at the protests in Windhoek to handle the situation and disperse the crowd, which became unruly.

He said the police's actions were within their mandate and responsibilities.

"The police, especially the Special Reserve Force, had the responsibility to disperse the unruly crowd without negotiation. They did that so as to handle the situation and keep everyone safe, including the general public and journalists.

"Since they were not complying and did not follow police instructions, they were obstructing the officers in the execution of their duty, and they were thus prone to detention," Ndeitunga said.

He said the police are in favour of peaceful demonstrations, but against unlawful and rowdy ones.

"We live in a democracy and would not entertain any manifestations which verged on the rule of the mob," he said.

The Namibian has been informed that the protesters did not obtain the necessary clearance for a public demonstration.

Namibia's Public Gatherings Proclamation, AG 23 of 1989 states that "no person shall hold, preside or otherwise officiate at, or address a public gathering unless he, or another person, has given notice in writing to the commander of the police station nearest to the place where the gathering is to be held".

The notice is required to state the place and time at which the gathering is to be held, the nature of the gathering, and the name of the person or organisation spearheading the gathering, among others.

This notice should be given during office hours at least three days before the date of the gathering.

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