In the face of increasing protests across the country, the Zimbabwe authorities yesterday invoked a draconian law to ban all public protests in Harare.

On Thursday evening, a senior police official, Chief Superintendent Newbert Saunyama, announced that police would ban all demonstrations in the capital, including a planned demonstration the next day by 18 opposition parties. He justified the ban under the Public Order and Security Act. The parties – which are calling for national electoral reforms – decided to postpone the protest to a later date.

The law banning demonstrations, the Statutory Instrument 101A of 2016, went into effect yesterday. It’s use signals intensifying government repression amid rising public discontent. It prohibits “the holding of all public demonstrations” in Harare until September 16, 2016.

Violating the ban carries penalties of up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of $300. Since June, various groups and political parties have staged at least 13 public protests across the country over deteriorating economic conditions, widespread corruption, police brutality, and lack of electoral reforms.

The government’s ban on all protests violates the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression protected under international human rights law.   

Today I spoke to lawyers who are preparing to challenge the ban in Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court. They intend to argue that the ban violates the right to free expression under the country’s constitution. They will also raise a constitutional provision that states that human rights can be limited only “in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.”

Banning protests will not resolve the country’s problems. Instead of imposing pseudo state-of-emergency regulations banning protests, the police should be maintaining public order and protecting life and property. The government should make a clean break with the country’s violent past: It should allow peaceful protests, respond appropriately if protests turn violent, and hold all those breaking the law to account.