Bar rights committee condemns Mutharika

By Thom Chiumia, Nyasa Times

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has joined the chorus of the international community to expresses deep concern at recent events in Malawi surrounding the 20 July 2011 civil society protests against a range of government policies, and their impact on the country’s fundamental human rights to lawfully protest and assemble.

At least 19 people were killed during a police crackdown against anti-Bingu wa Mutharika demonstrations in Malawi, and more than 275 people arrested across the country.

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“The BHRC stands with the United Nations, the UK government and others in condemning attempts by the Malawi government to disrupt the lawfully organised protests, both through the law courts and through the apparent use of intimidation by armed ruling-party paramilitaries,” says a statement made available to Nyasa Times.

The Bar Human Rights Committee is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. It is an independent body concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to human rights and the right to a fair trial.

The BHRC condemns Malawi Police for use of live ammunition and killing civilians and injured many more, including independent professional journalists in the course of documenting events.

The organisation said demonstrations are a constitutional right citing Section 38 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi which states that: “Every person shall have the right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed”.

Section 40, meanwhile, guarantees the right of every Malawian to campaign for a political party or cause, to participate in peaceful political activity intended to influence the composition and policies of the Government, and to freely to make political choices.

The BHRC said it is also concerned by the apparent and worrying disregard for Malawians’ fundamental constitutional rights to free expression (guaranteed by Section 35 of the Malawi Constitution) and free media (Section 36) displayed by the government in response to the protests of 20 July, by ordering the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority to block the broadcast coverage of three private radio stations after accusations by the Government that they were being used to “incite violence”.

Further, the BHRC is deeply concerned at the issuing of warrants for the arrest of the lawyers and civil society leaders who organised and took part in the 20 July protests, and by the continuing threats of prosecution for treason and intimidating language used by the Malawian Government towards those individuals.

The BHRC says it stands with the Malawi Law Society and other non-governmental organisations in urging the Malawian Government to “to abide by and respect the rule of law.”

According to the statement, BHRC also calls on Mutharika government to “uphold the constitutional right of every Malawian citizen to assemble and protest peacefully and to express themselves freely; To maintain the freedom of Malawi’s press; and to uphold its commitments to international legal and human rights principles, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”

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