A protest at an SRC debate at the Great Hall that ended in a fight is not necessarily protected freedom of expression, according to two free speech experts contacted by Wits Vuvuzela.
Last week Tuesday a physical fight broke out at the Great Hall between Project W, Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Wits Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) after the Wits EFF disrupted the SRC Great Debate with a protest.
This led to the debate being cancelled by the organisers, days later the seven students who were present for the protest and ensuing brawl were suspended.
This raises questions as to whether the Wits EFF had their freedom of expression compromised as they were at first expressing themselves through singing and dancing.
“I don’t think freedom of expression includes the right to physically disrupt the election process, including what appeared to be threats or real physical violence,” said Anton Harber, chair of the Freedom of Expression Institute.
He said that when students enter in a process such as the SRC elections they have to accept a set of conduct and rules.
“You have to operate within those rules or challenge those rules but, no, freedom of expression does not include the right to disrupt elections for example or physically threaten other people, other candidates,” said Harber.
William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said that instead of having their own freedom of expression compromised, the Wits EFF compromised the freedom of other students.
“That said some rights can legitimately be limited if the students who were suspended were themselves violent they sought to limit other people’s right to freedom of expression by effectively shutting down a peaceful debate.”
The university later used the Twitter accounts of the Wits EFF members for the investigation, a move that the organisation said was unfair.
Bird said that if the comments had been intercepted online or had been private then it would have been a violation of their freedom of expression and right to privacy.
“But if it is the case that the comments were tweets in the public domain then I don’t see how them being used in a hearing for or against them could be a limitation on them,” said Bird.
Harber said that if a person is making public social media posts, it’s the same as shouting it on a street corner.
“You’re responsible for what you say, what you publish and what you broadcast. [If] it’s in the public arena, it can be used against you,” said Harber.
Wits Vuvuzela, Wits SRC and EFF say student suspensions are unfair, August 22
PRESS POWER: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.
Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.
Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.
SOLIDARITY BROTHERS: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”
He also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.
Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.
De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.
De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.
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