Legal Link frowns at ban on street rallies

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By Ishmael Dumbuya

The Executive Director of Legal Link, Lawyer Rashid Dumbuya, has frowned at the ban placed on street rallies by the Political Parties Regulations Commission (PPRC).

What Happened? The Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC), in a statement, announced a ban on street rallies usually conducted by political parties to garner support and show their strength during elections.

According to PPRC, election periods were “no time for dancing and merriment”, but rather “times for deep reflection”.

Under the new rules, parties must now identify a single venue such as a stadium or community centre to hold their campaign events.

A spokesman for the PPRC, Lucien Momoh, said that the ban would “minimise violence”, where “in Sierra Leone, over the years, street rallies during campaign period had posed a serious threat to the safety of ordinary people.”

According to the Commission, rallies have been marred by violence, the use of abusive languages, and threats to political opponents.

What Legal Link says? The Executive Director of Legal Link says the ban on political rallies violates key fundamental human rights guaranteed under the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

“These rights include the right to freedom of movement (section 18) and the right to freedom of assembly and association (section 26). Such rights serve as the life blood and engine for democratic participation in any electioneering process. Banning street rallies and campaigns will directly violate the right to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech and the right to hold opinions,” he said.

He added that a ban on street rallies and campaigns might weaken political participation and enthusiasm in a country’s democratic process.

“Where people are not allowed to freely move, interact and engage in democratic campaigns as designed by their parties, there’s the tendency to discourage them and ultimately hinder their effective participation in the electioneering process,” he noted.

Barrister Dumbuya went on to state that a ban will install an atmosphere of fearand panic before, during and after the elections.

“When unreasonable fear isinjected into the minds of the voter population prior to an election,that electionwill not meet the threshold / standards of international best practice and hencecannot be said to be free and fair. This is the case because, elections must notonly be free and fair but must also be free from fear.”

He further noted that ban on political rallies will alsomake room for political apathy to fester amongst voters in the nation.

“Voters areusually incentivized when campaign rallies take place before the generalelections. Amongst other things, they are able to measure in detail the strength oftheir voter turnout as against opponents, success in their strategies of wooing thepublic on their side and can even make projections regarding voter turnout onpolling day to vote for their prospective candidates in the elections. All of theabove may be lost when street rallies and campaigns are banned in a democraticsociety,” he noted.

He cited that, according to section 171(15) of the 1991 constitution, any law, order, agreement, policy that is inconsistent with the 1991 Constitution is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.

“It is irrelevant as to which institution or person was involved in that agreement, policy, MOU or order. If it conflicts with the 1991 constitution, then it is null and void,” he said.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Barrister Rashid Dumbuya  recommended that PPRC should ensure to have a separate day and calendar for each of the political parties to come out and engage in their rallies and campaigns, ensure to have a designated route for all political parties on their days of rally having due consideration to vehicular and pedestrian traffic inconveniences, ensure to have a starting and end time for the rallies preferably 9am to 5pm.

He added that night rallies should be discouraged as a lot of things can go wrong and may not be accounted for and that political party leadership must be held accountable over the actions of their supporters should there be use of profanities, abusive languages, hate speech, tribal and religious bigotries or any damage to properties belonging to the state or another during such rallies.

“Political parties can be fined, decried, warned, rebuked or ask to apologize by PPRC for any misgivings that might occur in their designated day of rally. In such ways, internal discipline and maturity will be ensured within political parties and their supporters going forward.”

He ended on the note that the word ban is a word that is inimical to a democratic society and must be avoided at all cost by state institutions.

“Such a word is more often akin to autocratic systems of governments where citizens’ rights are muzzled, suppressed and cowed into subjection at all times.”

OBLIGATIONS: It is important to also note that Sierra Leone is a signatory to many international and regional treaties, conventions and protocols that put obligation on the country to guarantee the rights to movement, assembly, association and the right to freedom of speech and to hold opinions in a democratic society. Such treaties and conventions include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance to name but a few. A ban therefore of these fundamental human rights outside of a judicial process will hurt our international reputation as a democratic nation.

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