Two of the country’s vocal human rights’ bodies have expressed concern over the steady return of heavy-handedness among the Malawi Police under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in the country.
The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) said they felt compelled to arrive at this position following the recent detention of a Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) journalist, Hyten Chilema who was filming President Peter Mutharika’s arrival from prolonged US stay, and arbitrary arrest of civil rights activist, Billy Mayaya.
The two developments followed government’s issuing of a strange order to arrest anyone commenting on the health of the President Mutharika.
In a joint statement, CHRR and Cedep said on all these three scenarios, they condemn government for acting “out of step” with the country’s hard-won democracy.
“On the arrest of the ZBS journalist who was filming the President’s motorcade at Area 18 Roundabout on the evening of Sunday, 16th October, we at CHRR and Cedep wish to draw the attention of government and police to section 36 of the Constitution of Malawi which stipulates that the ‘press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information.’
“As such, we call upon government to stop rolling back the gains made in media freedom in the country.Instead of resorting to any form of crackdown on the media, govermment should to take steps aimed at progressive realisation of media freedom,” said the two in a statement.
CHRR and Cedep also “unreservedly” condemn the arrest of an activist, Billy Mayaya, and two other for staging peaceful and unarmed protests against water and electricity crisis in the country.
“ As bonafide citizens of this country, Mayaya and other concerned citizens have the “right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed”, as enshrined under Section 38 of Malawi’s constitution.
“As such, we at CHRR and Cedep we find the protests by Mayaya and other as more issue-based than the pointless one staged by DPP supporters who got a full go-ahead from the Police. This portrayal of double-standards by the Police is unprofessional and undemocratic. It has to stop forthwith,” the statement signed by CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, said.
The two rights watchdogs emphasized that the persistent water and electricity shortages have a direct bearing on the social-economic human rights of Malawians.
“The manufacturing sector that contributes a greater percentage to the GDP of our ailing economy makes a lot of losses due to these blackouts. Malawians operating small scale businesses that depend on water and electricity availability like barbershops, video show rooms and salons also lose out. Tourists coming to Malawi go back to their countries with a very bad image about the country that deter would-be tourists. The list continues.
“By failing to solve the water and electricity problems, the government is also failing in its duty of protecting the citizens. A number of human rights have been violated ranging from the right to health, right to economic activity, right to education and, consequently, the right to life. Patients in hospitals are dying due to water shortages and electricity blackouts. As such, we at CHRR and Cedep can safely say Mayaya and others had very genuine issues to stage demonstrations for.”
‘Secrecy and lies’
CHRR and Cedep also condemned government’s issuing of threats to citizens on health of the President as inconsistent with Section 35 of Constitution which guarantees right to freedom of expression for all the citizens in the country.
“As we have said on a number of occasions, government should simply get out of this self-created pressure by opening up to public with true information on the health of the President. Threatening citizens with arrest is not a solution.
“We ask the DPP led government to stop treading the dreaded path towards a return to dark days of 2009—2011.”
The two said they have noted with serious concern the “secrecy and lies”attached as regards the healthy status of the president by the government.
They President Mutharika to address Malawians as a matter of urgency.
“ This will clear the cloud of speculations in the general public. Threatening and arresting people is not the solution and it is against democratic principles.
“In a democracy, a government that is not proactive in disclosure of true information should not stop its citizens from speculating.”
Mutharika, will meanwhile , address a news conference on Friday afternoon.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :