Police defend heavy-handed response

About 23 youth protestors are expected to appear in court today after the weekend protests degenerated into a highly-confrontational affair.

12 October 2020 | Local News



Having arrested 26 anti-sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) protesters, including three journalists, on Saturday, police said those arrested violated several laws as well as regulations against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The protestors marched to Wernhil Park, one of the main shopping centres in Windhoek, to shut it down and send a message that corporate Namibia has a duty in the fight against the violence.

Major-general Oscar Embubulu labelled the nationwide protests as unlawful, saying the police had been lenient enough since Thursday when the demonstrations started, and has been pleading with those involved to observe the law.

He said the police will not tolerate any unlawful acts and will sternly deal with anyone who make themselves guilty of these acts.

‘Violent and obstructive’

“Unfortunately, while the public anger and repudiation of the violent crimes is justifiable, the demonstrations were not only disorderly and unlawful, but they have also been violent and obstructive of law enforcement in the country.”

He said that at about 10:30 on Saturday, a crowd of approximately 300 people started converging at Zoo Park in Windhoek, purportedly to protest the lax manner in which government and the police are addressing SGBV in the country.

“As the crowd got bigger, they marched from Zoo Park towards Wernhil Park shopping mall while shouting and obstructing general traffic in the city centre.”

“Upon arrival at Werhil Park, they stormed into some of the shops in a rowdy manner before proceeding with their march to KFC along Mandume Ndemufayo Road. At KFC, they also stormed inside and infringed on the rights of the patrons of the facility,” Embubulu said.

He added that police implored the protests to desist, but they continued obstructing both the police and patrons. This, he said, prompted the police to employ a smoke grenade, which forced them to disperse.

Special Field Force called in

A wave of demonstrations which began last Thursday, demanding President Hage Geingob to declare a state of emergency over SGBV, led to the protest in Windhoek being broken up by the Special Field Force Police.

They fired teargas and rubber bullets at protestors, detaining 26 individuals, including three journalists from local media houses.

Anne Ndeshipanda Awiigidha, one of the youth protestors, said the Special Field Force officers continued hitting her despite her shouting for them to stop.

“I was not running, I was walking, then all of them came, they started kicking me. They then left and I stood up and started walking and they returned and started hitting me again.”

Government’s response

Prime Minister Sara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila on Saturday night said government has taken note of the petition addressed to the Speaker of the National Assembly concerning SGBV.

“Since receiving the petitions, we have been working around the clock to review the demands and assess the key areas that we intend to respond to, including enhancing the policy, legal and institutional safeguards,” she said.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the government anticipates to deliver formal feedback tomorrow after Cabinet meeting.

“As their elected leaders, we feel their pain, hear their cries and understand the anxiety. We are in solidarity with you as you protest against this grave situation of violence that our mothers and sisters are subjected to in this country,” she said.

Journalists’ safety

In a statement yesterday, Ronelle Rademeyer, secretary-general of the Editor’s Forum of Namibia (EFN), said the forum is concerned about the physical force used by the Special Field Force against journalists who were covering the protest.

“The EFN is equally concerned to learn of other abusive remarks made by police officers towards journalists as it shows a disrespect for media freedom and freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right,” she said.

Rademeyer also touched on continuing occasions of police officers preventing journalists from carrying out their work.

“This includes in June, when Namibian Sun journalist Jemima Beukes and The Namibian's Charmaine Ngatjiheue were manhandled by security details when they tried to cover the official opening of the Covid-19 isolation facility at the Windhoek Central Hospital by President Hage Geingob.”

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