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Zimbabwe amends controversial public order law

[JURIST] The government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] has amended the controversial Public Order and Security Act [PDF text], according to Monday media reports. The law prohibits public political gatherings without prior police approval. If police turn down a party's application to hold a rally, the party can appeal its case to the Minister of Home Affairs [official website], whom opposition forces say is biased as a member of the ruling party. Under the new amendments, political parties will be able to appeal to a magistrate instead. Police will also be required to explain their reasons for denying rally permits. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF [Wikipedia backgrounder] party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change [party website] agreed to the amendments after a summit mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

In the past, Zimbabwe has used the Public Order and Security Act to crack down on anti-government protests. In May, police in Harare arrested [JURIST report] members of the National Constitutional Assembly [official website] who protested against proposed amendments to the Zimbabwean Constitution [PDF text], later passed and signed into law [JURIST report], which essentially allow Mugabe to pick his successor. That same month, Zimbabwean police broke up a rally of about 50 lawyers who had gathered to protest the the arrest and imprisonment of two human rights advocates; the lawyers argued that the Public Order and Security Act exempted them from a general ban against demonstrations [JURIST reports]. Reuters has more.

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