The Access to Information in Namibia Coalition chairperson Frederico Links has called on the police to always exercise maximum restraint in dealing with protests to safeguard human rights.
Links made this call in a press release yesterday following the protest and arrests which took place on Friday at Chinatown in Windhoek. He said the “random shooting of rubber bullets and teargas toward crowds should be avoided at all costs”.
The coalition is also concerned that journalists were hit by rubber bullets, with some incurring injuries.
Links advises media organisations to ensure that their journalists wear clothing that clearly identifies them as journalists.
He said the rights to peaceful assembly, press freedom, and freedom of expression are enshrined in the Namibian constitution (Article 21) and in addition, The Police Act states that members of the police may only use reasonable force in exercising their duties (section 13 (10)).
Previously, he said the Action Coalition condemned the police’s disproportionate use of force against #ShutItAllDown protesters and journalists on 10 October 2020.
“We repeat the call we made then for the police to respect human rights and for the force to improve its crowd control tactics. Sensible and proportionate police responses are crucial if the scenes that took place on Friday and in October 2020 are to be avoided,” said the coalition chairperson.
He said irresponsible reactions can lead to further conflagrations and have tragic consequences. In this context, we remember Frieda Ndatipo, who was shot dead during a police operation at a public protest near the Swapo headquarters in Katutura on 27 August 2014, Links said.
To this day, he said no one has been held accountable for her death.
The coalition said following six years of economic recession and further hardship inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, large sections of the Namibian population are suffering, especially the youth who face a 50% unemployment rate.
These conditions, he said are likely to spark more protests in the future.
“While protests should always be peaceful, it is vital that the Namibian authorities, especially the police, use tactics that mitigate rather than enflame expressions of frustration that are bound to occur in the form of public protest,” he said.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Editors’ Forum of Namibia, (EFN) Frank Steffen condemned the violence in Chinatown and the excessive use of force by the Namibian Police.
“We have noted with concern last week’s incidents of violence at Chinatown during which the Namibian Police used excessive force to get the public demonstrations under control,” Steffen said.
He said the EFN as a group of key media houses in Namibia, particularly criticises the Namibian Police’s indiscriminate use of anti-riot weapons that led to and caused injuries to journalists covering the protests.
“Although the EFN recognises that the Namibian Police is responsible for law and order, which entitles them to follow due processes, the EFN would like to implore the police to resort to physical force as an absolute last resort,” he said.
He further appeals to all media houses to adhere to the laws of the country at all times.
“Media houses should ensure that journalists are always clearly identified as media representatives especially when reporters enter an area of conflict, which they did when covering this particular demonstration,” he said.
He added that media houses should also train their media practitioners to ensure that they never expose themselves to parties who mean harm.
“Journalists should be trained to never get caught up in the middle of a conflict or between two parties that are part in a conflict and to ensure that the police or other security forces can see and identify them as media or journalists instead of activists,” he said.