Arms deal picket ruling welcomed

Pretoria - The court ruling allowing the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) to picket near the Seriti Commission of Inquiry was welcomed by the FXI on Friday.

“The right to protest is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society and it must be equally upheld as other constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) executive director Phenyo Dean Butale said in a statement.

Judges Musi and Seriti preside over the Arms Procurement Commission at the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria. File picture: Chris Collingridge. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The R2K approached the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday with an urgent appeal against a Tshwane metro police department decision to stop a picket outside the Seriti inquiry into the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal.

Judge Andre de Vries granted the order, stating that the campaign be allowed to gather at the entrance to Sammy Square, on Helen Joseph (former Church) Street, where the commission is holding its hearings.

The Tshwane metro police were restricted from dispersing, obstructing, and interfering with the gathering.

The FXI congratulated R2K for challenging the department.

“The FXI wishes to express concern that the attitude displayed by the TMPD is becoming a common trend throughout the vast majority of municipalities in the country.”

Butale hoped the ruling would deter other authorities from unprocedural prohibition of protests.

Outside the court on Thursday, Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said it had not been the department's intention to stop the R2K's protest.

“They had applied to picket on the 3rd and 4th 1/8of June 3/8. When we were about to grant them permission they came back to change those dates,” Mahamba said.

“They say they now wanted to picket on the 12th and 13th June. We could not agree on those dates because as the metro police we had committed our resources elsewhere.”

The R2K initially wanted to picket outside the commission when former president Thabo Mbeki testified.

Mbeki was supposed to testify this week, but his testimony was delayed due to the death of his mother, Epainette, on Saturday.

The R2K instead picketed on Thursday during former finance minister Trevor Manuel's testimony.

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the multi-billion rand deal.

Government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.