By ZWELETHU DLAMINI | 2020-06-07
The Law Society of Swaziland and individual lawyers have criticised government for breaking its own regulations and are calling upon the national commissioner of police to be impartial and arrest the organiser of the event that violated the COVID-19 regulations by having a gathering of more than 20 people.
This follows the hosting of the COVID-19 sensitisation exercise at Mhlambanyatsi Inkhundla which was attended by over 150 people including the Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, Ministers Neal Rijkenberg, Cruiser Ngcamphalala and Harris Bulunga.
The event, which was held last week Wednesday, was also attended by House of Assembly Speaker Petros Mavimbela who doubles as Mhlambanyatsi Member of Parliament, Manzini Regional Administrator Chief Gija and Mhlambanyatsi Inkhundla community leaders including chiefs and councillors (Bucopho).
The ministry of tinkhundla administration and development in collaboration with the police, and ministry of health had been invited by Manzini Regional Administrator Chief Gija to conduct the community leaders COVID-19 sensitisation exercise. The Law society of Swaziland says the law should be applied with impartiality. Secretary General Thulani Maseko said the law applies equally to everybody, it does not have eyes to pick and choose.
“If the regulation states that a gathering of more than 20 people is prohibited it means just that. There are no exceptions. Whosoever was involved in organising that gathering should be dealt with accordingly. You cannot make a law for others and a different one for yourself,” he said.
Maseko said the assertion that they were not arrested because of the purpose of the gathering was null and void and cannot be used as an excuse for breaking the law.
“Everybody has a reason for breaking the law, if we accept that as an excuse, then no one can be arrested as every person can state his own reason,” he said.
Similar sentiments were shared by Law Society Acting President Lucky Howe who said the regulation has no exception. Since it was breached, they are expecting the national commissioner of police to hold those who violated the regulation accountable.
Howe stated that failure to do so would breed anarchy as it is becoming a norm that people at the top are not held accountable.
“We are expecting the commissioner of the police to do what he would do if it was you and I who had violated the regulation.
The law should take its course in the similar fashion that they had been doing when it was ordinary people. Government should lead by example. We have had judges shooting people and magistrates hitting their wives now those at the top have violated the law and they have not been held accountable,” he said.
Howe said it was not for the police to justify the gathering or the violation of the law rather, that should be left for the judicial officers.
He emphasised that the regulation did not give exception and since the prime minister had only guided on the maximum of 20 people in the law with no amendment, the police should hold accountable anyone who violated it.
Individual lawyers believe the organiser broke regulation 25 which restricts and prohibits gatherings of more than 20 people.
According to the regulations, “gathering” means any assembly, concourse or procession of more than 20 persons, wholly or partially in open air or in a building or premises. “In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, a gathering of more than 20 people is prohibited,” read the regulations.
The regulations permit enforcement officers which may be public health officers, an immigration officers, members of the police service, defence force and correctional service to order the persons at the gathering to disperse immediately.
If they refuse, the enforcement officer may take appropriate action which may, subject to the Criminal Procedure Act, include arrest and detention.
However, none of those who were at Mhlambanyatsi Inkhundla COVID-19 sensitisation exercise faced the above consequences. According to the legal eagles, this is wrong.
They are now calling for the arrest of the organiser of the meeting as according to them, he broke the law and the enforcement agent should have arrested him and dispersed the crowd as per the regulations.
The legal eagles recalled that in April the police arrested four pastors for contravening the same regulations and they were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with and option fine of E2 000 which they paid.
They said impartiality should be exercised by applying the same in this case.
“The regulation is clear, a gathering of more than 20 people is prohibited, there is no exception and there is no clause that talks of the intention.
They contravened the regulations and therefore, they should be arrested. Did the police not arrest four pastors in April for same? They would have argued that they were praying for God’s intervention in the pandemic, and other people can gather and use the same excuse by the prime minister,” said a lawyer who requested not to be named.
Another lawyer said just as the master of ceremony of a funeral was arrested, the organiser of the exercise should be arrested for failing to stick to the 20 people permitted by the regulations.
Section 33 of the regulations states that a person who contravenes a provision of these regulations commits an offense and on conviction, is liable to a fine not exceeding twenty five thousand Emalangeni (E25 000) or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years.
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