WE commend the ruling by the High Court barring State security agents from brutalising citizens while enforcing the COVID-19 21-day national lockdown law.
The court observed correctly that human rights remain sacrosanct even in a state of emergency. The ruling speaks to what we have always been saying since the lockdown came into force end of last month.
While it’s true that some societal malcontents could not, just for a day, stay indoors to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, this does not give State security agents the right to act as if the travel restrictions have suspended all human rights.
Frankly speaking, brutalising civilians without politely educating them on the importance of the lockdown is self-defeating.
The Constitution provides for security forces to apply lawful means to enforce the lockdown, including arresting the violators and bringing them before a court of law.
Of late, there have been disturbing reports of police and soldiers taking the law into their own hands and assaulting citizens under the guise of enforcing the lockdown order.
There have also been several cases in which motorists and commuters using Zupco buses have been harassed at checkpoints if they are not members of the army, police force and the health sector.
It would appear that the individual officers deployed to man these roadblocks and checkpoints were not given sufficient orientation — if at all — on how to handle such situations.
In one case, a young man who had forgotten his official letter was asked to lie on the tarmac and was assaulted on his back with a sjambok, and given five strokes which the soldier in point said was equivalent to the number of days left before the 21-day mark of the lockdown.
We believe that our police officers and soldiers need extensive sensitisation on how to deal with violators during the time of a disease outbreak to which they too, just like any other civilian, are also vulnerable.
Although police chiefs have indicated they were investigating such abuses captured on videos circulating on social media, it is our prayer that they will, indeed, investigate those cases and bring the culprits to book.
Failure to do so will entrench the perception that our security services sector is anti-people, and that members who violate the law will never be brought to account. These are things that make the public to lose trust in State security agencies.