Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mazabuka realignment Demonstrations

Mazabuka realignment Demonstrations
By The Post
Thu 23 Feb. 2012, 12:00 CAT

IT is not right, and there is no need, for the police to stop demonstrations in Mazabuka against the removal of Chirundu and Itezhi-tezhi districts from Southern Province. And one doesn't need to belong to a registered organisation to enjoy freedom of expression, the right to protest government decisions or actions.

There is no need to cancel these demonstrations. Let them demonstrate and say all that they want to say. What the police need to do is simply police or manage the process so that it is peaceful and arrest those, and only those, who become violent and destructive. Cancelling demonstrations is not something that will lead to peace, law and order.

It is something that will lead to lawlessness and breakdown in order because those whose fundamental rights of freedom of expression have been violated should not be expected to react politely. You are taking away their fundamental rights, their humanity and you expect them to react politely.

When they explode, you want them to explode politely! Why? We can only say this is not the right way to deal with the Zambian of today - you are dealing with a wrong Zambian at the wrong time in the wrong way.

We maintain that freedom of expression is the mark of humanity. Freedom of expression is a precious thing, and the inalienable birthright of all who travel this earth. And freedom of expression doesn't exist so that we can freely praise and agree with our public officials, with our President. It exists so that we can freely criticise them, disagree with their decisions and actions.

Freedom of expression is about tolerance - to believe, speak, congregate and lobby as you see fit, while allowing others to do likewise, even people whose expressions you find abhorrent.

Tolerance for demonstrations, protests is the touchstone for democratic societies. Liberty of expression benefits more than the protestor, the demonstrator. We all suffer the violation of our liberties if they are denied the right to express themselves, to protest the President's realignment of some districts in Southern Province.

It seems our politicians and our police officers never learn that suppressing expression can be worse than the underlying conduct. In our popular discussions, unwise ideas must have a hearing as well as wise ones, dangerous ideas as well as safe, unpatriotic as well as patriotic. The need to protect what we detest is the reason freedom of the mind both exists and remains under siege. Liberty is one thing no person can have unless he grants it to others.

And we don't believe any tyrant, any totalitarian regime ever succeeded in imposing a moratorium on thought, on expression.

And men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely. It is easy to embrace freedom of expression for ideas we accept. But the essence of freedom of expression is that we must protect the ideas we hate, we disagree with.

The freedom of expression must be fought for and won over and over again. The first step in this battle is to understand the threats we face. It is the fervent of ideas, the clash of disagreeing judgments, the privilege of the individual to develop his own thought and shape his own character that makes progress possible.

We all know that the impulse to restrict individual rights is as ancient as the very history of mankind. We are better than that impulse. What we have to do is to find ways to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.

In a democracy, the freedom of discussion and the freedom of expression are of the highest value. Without them, democracy turns into a caricature.

It may be argued by the police and their political masters that it's necessary to stop these protests. But we have heard this before. This was the argument in the Mongu protests that led to the deaths and maiming of so many innocent people. Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants.

We think the greatest thing about freedom of expression is that it extends to everyone, the wise and the foolish. Some of the arguments coming out of those opposed to Michael Sata's realignment of districts are really foolish. But they have the right to be foolish and say whatever they want to say.

Every person should have an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he or she pleases before the public; to forbid this, to stop this, is to destroy the freedom of expression. Of course, appreciating the fact that the right to express oneself in any form does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

You cannot have a democracy and you cannot have a community if you do not have a way to share ideas. Only a strong and secure democracy can guarantee the fullest and freest exchange of ideas, no matter how much those ideas hurt or incite.

It is not right to stop people from protesting the decisions and actions of their president. The decision by the police to stop protests in Mazabuka is wrong and should be opposed. We have to stand for what is right and not worry about what is politically feasible. Freedom is never given; it is won. And all freedom springs from necessity.

We can disagree or agree with the realignment of districts. There is nothing wrong with that. But we cannot afford to disagree in defending freedom of expression. We should all defend the rights of those people in Mazabuka who want to protest the realignment of districts. In our view, our sincere view, they are wrong in their opposition to the realignment of districts. They are opposing something that is right, just and legal. Their arguments are very poor and jaundiced in many aspects.

But they are right in protesting these realignments. It is within their constitutional rights to do so. And let's all come together - whether we agree or don't agree with them on realignment of districts - and defend their rights to freedom of expression, their rights to protest government decisions and actions. On this we should all agree to disagree with our government's decision to stop their protest.

Some people erroneously believe that having freedom of expression is a natural phenomenon. It is not. It is the result of intense care and vigilance. And if there is any principle of our Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment more than any other, it is the principle of free thought and expression - not free for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.

We must suppress our emotions on this issue. The idea of diversity becomes our strength, sacred to us - the range broadening, the potential becoming a way and a song. Many have fought this reality. We know the wounds. To hear one voice clearly, we must have the freedom to hear them all.

The right of peaceable assembly and of protest is the constitutional substitute for a revolution. To silence criticism is to silence freedom. And while enjoying your freedom of expression, it is wise to remember that the toes you step on today may be connected to the rump that you must kiss tomorrow.

We shouldn't forget that the suppression of any individual or group of people for opinion's sake has rarely had any other effect than to fix those opinions deeper and render them more important than they should be. And freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, protest and debate.

The arguments of those opposed to the realignment of districts have little, or no, merit. But there is merit in their right to protest what is being done by their government.

And those in government have a duty to explain what they are doing and why they are doing it; and they should never get tired of explaining and of seeking support for their decisions and actions. But there is laziness and arrogance on the part of those in government.

They think they can do as they please since they are the government and no one has the right to question what they are doing as long as they are acting within their constitutional authority. Life is not like that. To govern is to continually communicate with the people.

And instead of trying to suppress their protests, allow them to do so and after they have do so, go there and hold your own meeting and explain what you are doing to the people.

If you fail to convince them, think twice about what you are doing and probably go back to the drawing board.

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