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Restriction concerns

Dawn Gibson
Saturday, April 26, 2014

CONCERNS were yesterday raised by the NGO Coalition on Human Rights pertaining to section 115 of the Electoral Decree 2014, which discusses restrictions on election-related campaigns leading up to the poll in September.

In a statement by the coalition yesterday, chair Shamima Ali said the section was unjustified.

"Section 115 is completely unjustified and is an attack on the integrity and independence of NGOs," Ms Ali claimed.

"Furthermore, section 115 restricts the freedom of expression and the right that NGO employees have to participate fully in the political process."

The section states that following the announcement of the date of election, it shall be unlawful for any person, entity, organisation (including any person employed or engaged by any such person, entity or organisation) that receives any funding or assistance from a foreign government, inter-governmental or non-governmental organisation or multi-lateral agency to engage in, participate in or conduct any campaign that is related to the election or any election issue or matter.

"This includes organising debates, public forums, meetings, interviews, panel discussions, or publishing any material.

"The effect of this provision is to effectively muzzle NGOs and all employees of NGOs, between now and September, from expressing any opinion on most issues."

Earlier this month, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said NGOs needed permission to carry out those activities.

"And they can, but must seek the permission of the Electoral Commission because under the Constitution, the Electoral Commission is the one responsible for education. The commission would not mind partnering various NGOs because a lot of them get a lot of funding," he had said.

"If you let them loose and they have a particular agenda, they can actually go out and tell people the wrong thing. So, this is why the education material needs to be sanctioned by the commission."





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