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Seychelles National Party (SNP)
Public Order Act or Public Gathering Act?
The Constitutional Court has given its verdict on the Public Order Act(2013). It has ruled that 15 sections of the Public Order Act are unconstitutional and void. This is indeed a victory for democracy in the sense that the right to assembly and the right to freedom of expression have been protected and taken seriously by the court.
During the Electoral Reform meeting under the leadership of the Electoral Commission, the SNP, represented by Antony Derjacques, Bryan Julie and myself, together with the SUP, represented by Ralph Volcère and Philippe Boullé fought very hard to get a new law to replace the 1959 Public Order Act. We were the ones who got the Commission to place this law on the table in order for us to come up with a new one. We felt that it was necessary in order to promote our country as one that is democratic.
The debates were most interesting, and the question that we, as an opposition that had boycotted the 2011 Assembly elections asked, was whether we actually needed a new Public Order Act or rather a Public Gathering Act to oversee the procedures for public gatherings in order to protect the two rights mentioned above. The opposition won the argument and the Electoral Commission proposed a Public Assembly Bill to government as its recommendation.
However, the government threw this out altogether and came back with the Public Order Act(2013). The two parties again got together after we realised that the government had passed the law in an underhand manner without giving much publicity to it. We decided to file a case and we were joined by the Citizens Democracy Watch. So it has been a long fight.
It is obvious that the government was not sincere in the way it went about things. They really wanted to give the minister, who is a political appointee of the ruling party greater powers over the Commissioner of Police, who in the Constitution is given the authority to run that force independently. They further wanted to give the police overwhelming powers in their duties to the extent that no-one would be allowed to photograph them. This was a new section and it was made an offence that carried a heavy fine and even a prison sentence. Thanks God all this has now been thrown out.
The question that I think is relevant at this point is whether the country needs a Public Order Act or simply a Public Gathering/Assembly Act similar to what they have in Mauritius and South Africa? Even the Attorney General, in his face saving interview on the SBC after the verdict was given, pointed out that there were other laws that dealt with public order. That is true. Therefore I ask whether he’s just found that out and why did he therefore repeat those same provisions in the Public Order Act? Was this his way of promoting the democracy that he declared had scored a major victory on Tuesday? Hellooooo!!!!
Our country does not need a Public Order Act. Instead we need a Public Gathering Act that will give the procedures to follow in order to freely exercise the right to assemble and the right of expression. Basically it should only comprise of the procedure for notice of gathering, time, place and who is organising it, accompanied by procedures of appeal against conditions established by the Commissioner. Why make something simple so complicated?
The judgement of the Constitutional Court gives a clear indication that our government is an oppressive one and that we have to fight it all the way. We are the ones who will make our country truly democratic, free and just. Let us all join in this fight.
Another battle won. Now we have to win the war.
BY: Wavel Ramkalawan