8 August 2016

On 8 August 2016, a group of 94 community health workers and activists will appear before the Bloemfontein High Court to protect their right to protest. The Right to Protest Project supports their efforts.

94 Free State community health workers and activists from the Treatment Action Campaign are appealing a conviction of contravening the Regulation of Gatherings Act. They were arrested in June 2014 while holding a peaceful protest at the offices of the provincial department of health, Bophelo House.

Community health workers, who are often elderly women, play a critical role in our healthcare system under appalling conditions. In April 2014, Free State community health workers were arbitrarily dismissed by MEC Benny Malakaone. Two months later, after trying and failing to engage with the MEC’s office on this issue and the crisis in the healthcare system generally, the health workers finally held a vigil at their head office. The protesting community health workers and activists were arrested and reportedly injured by police in the process.

This treatment of protesters is an example of a growing trend towards criminalising protest in our country which is part of what motivated the formation of the Right2Protest Project (R2P). R2P is a coalition of civil society organisations working together to realise the constitutional right to protest as entrenched in section 17 of the Constitution.

R2P remains deeply concerned about the way communities’ right to protest is limited.  We support the #BopheloHouse94 and communities across the country in defending their right to protest. The exercise of this right is not something for which communities need permission.  We call on the government departments involved in this particular case, and across the country – including municipalities and the South African Police Service – to work with communities across the country to make this right a reality in the service of democracy.

 

For inquiries, please contact:

 

Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Lisa Chamberlain

011 717 8624 / lisa.chamberlain@wits.ac.za

 

Freedom of Expression Institute

Sheniece Linderboom

011 482 1913 / sheniecel@fxi.org.za

 

Centre for Environmental Rights

Melissa Fourie

021 447 1647 / mfourie@cer.org.za

 

Equal Education Law Centre

Daniel Linde

021 461 1421 / daniel@eelawcentre.org.za