Police impose strict march rules
POLICE have warned protesters participating in today’s march to petition Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and government to address Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility concerns not to carry placards criticising the premier or to wear political party regalia.
Maseru Urban District Commissioner, Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola, yesterday told the Sunday Express the timeframe of the march had also been changed from 9am to 3pm, instead of the initial 9am to 5pm.
The procession has been organised by a coalition of civic groups dubbed Alliance of Non-State Actors (ANSA) to pressurise government to address the United States government’s governance and rule of law concerns that could jeopardise Lesotho’s eligibility for free trade benefits under AGOA.
AGOA is a nonreciprocal trade preference programme that provides dutyfree treatment to US imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.
Lesotho’s textile industry is a major beneficiary of AGOA and losing it would spell doom to the country’s economy as the sector employs an estimated 40 000 people. A determination on Lesotho’s eligibility for AGOA will be made on 1 January 2017.
The ANSA march is expected to include various groups such as the National Clothing and Textile Workers Union, Lentsoe la Sechaba and Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho, Maseru Region Transport Operators as well as members of academia, business, civil society organisations and opposition political party youth and women leagues.
Snr Supt Mapola said the procession was only allowed to protest on the AGOA issue and not to call for Dr Mosisili’s ouster.
“I called (factory workers union leader) Sam Mokhele to raise some of my concerns with him because he is the one who had applied for the protest march, and he came with other people,” he said.
“I told them that I did not expect to see any placards saying ‘Mosisli must go’ or ‘Corruption must fall’ because the permit was granted on the basis of concerns over AGOA only. So no political party regalia is expected.
“Had the permit been given on the basis of corruption and the prime minister’s alleged maladministration, that would have been something else. Anyone who wanted such a permit should have come for their own permit and not ride on the one already issued on AGOA.”
Snr Supt Mapola said the flouting of those conditions would compromise the peaceful holding of the march and contravene Section 5 (1) (a) of the Public Meetings and Processions Act.
The Maseru Urban District Commissioner said he had discretionary powers to grant or deny a permit “but since all parties have agreed to obey the set rules there was no need to do so”.
The other conditions Snr Supt Mapola set are that there should be no sit-ins or vulgar songs during the march.
“The march will start at 9am and end at 3pm and not at 5pm as was agreed earlier. However should their business extend beyond the stipulated time, they will liaise with me,” he said.
However, the Transformation Resource Centre’s (TRC) Tsikoane Peshoane, whose civic group is participating in the march, told this paper the Public Meeting and Procession Act gave the police wide discretionary powers in the issuing of permits to people wishing to exercise their democratic right to demonstrate.
He said the fact that these discretionary powers were not guided by any clear guidelines or regulations made them subject to the whims of the individual police officer exercising them.
“It all depends on who is in office at the time. The determination of who can demonstrate and how such a demonstration can be carried out is up to that individual,” said Mr Peshoane.
“Such a scenario is detrimental to the exercising of democratic rights because it can easily be used to stifle dissent and democracy.”
MaseRU Urban District Commissioner senior superintendent Motlatsi Mapola.