Protesters against sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) under the banner of #ShutItAllDown now plan to sue the police, alleging they were unlawfully arrested and detained on Saturday. The police arrested 24 of the protesters who are predominantly young women and four journalists on Saturday but later released them on a warning on the same day.
The journalists were the first to be released without being charged. However, before their release, the activists were charged for contravening Section 2 of the Public Gatherings Proclamation Act, for holding a public gathering without having given notice to the police.
They were also charged for contravening the Public and Environment Health Act, for allegedly conducting a gathering of more than 50 people and failing to or refusing to obey police instructions to disburse.
Charges against the protesters were, however, dropped after the prosecutor general decided not to prosecute them just minutes before they were due to appear. This followed after a lengthy discussion between the prosecutor general and the activists’ legal team.
“We welcome the decision of the prosecutor general for declining to prosecute our clients. We are now taking instructions to institute legal action against the Inspector General of the Namibian Police for unlawful arrest and detention,” said Samson Enkali, one of the lawyers representing the activists.
The activists were arrested on Saturday during a demonstration that escalated into a riot where the police used teargas to disperse the demonstrators. In a statement, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) condemned the police for using excessive force against the protestors.
“The police should only use reasonable and justified measures to avert damage to life or property. The use of tear gas against the protestors is neither reasonable not justified. In a democratic country we are permitted to raise our voices,” said LAC director Toni Hancox.
She added that SGBV has become a scourge in the country and the government’s lack of action prompted the current protest.
“The President and government are called upon to respond to the pain of its people and take the needed action to prevent SGBV urgently. In the meantime, let the people raise their voices without fear,” said Hancox.
In a statement, police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga said the demonstration was unlawful. Ndeitunga claimed four journalists were amongst those that acted outside the law and obstructed law enforcers in executing their duties.
“The police are certainly for a peaceful demonstration, but we are against an unlawful and rowdy protest that impairs the safety and security of our nation. We live in a democracy and would not entertain any manifestations which verge on the rule of the mob,” said Ndeitunga.
The police chief urged protesters to identify group leaders who should be consulted whenever the need arises to express their disdain for gender-based violence.