The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has issued a statement condemning what it describes as “heavy-handed dealing” of the arrest of civil society organisation (CSO) leaders over Wednesday’s flopped demonstration in Lilongwe, which ended in mayhem of looting and vandalism.
The DPP, in its statement issued by the party’s director of legal affairs, Charles Mhango, goes further to accuse the MCP Government that it “is failing to govern Malawi justly” and thus its repeat of the call upon the country’s leadership “to resign immediately”.
After some concerned business persons in Lilongwe obtained a court injunction stopping the demos hours before their commencement, the people who had already gathered decided to go ahead with the march — that unfortunately turned into mayhem of looting and vandalism.
It led to some running battles with the police and since the demos were deemed illegal through the court injunction, and as named by the DPP’s statement, the law enforcers arrested the CSO organisers — Kinglesy Mpaso; Billy Banda; Phinziro Mvula; Chimwemwe Mphepo; Edward Kamphanje; Aubrey Harare; Jonathan Phiri; Victor Nyanyaliwa and many other demonstrators.
The DPP says the CSOs “had committed no arrestable offence whatsoever”, saying they had organized peaceful demonstrations but that by morning of the day of the event “some misguided individuals, led by Mr. John Kwenda, but certainly acting on the instructions or at behest of the MCP, obtained an injunction from Justice Mdeza”.
“This injunction was clearly misguided as it goes against the Constitution and the judgement of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal in the case of Attorney General v Gift Trapence and Another, MSCA Civil Appeal No. 25 of 2019, which laid the law that peaceful demonstrations should not be stopped.
“The CSO leaders received the injunction in the morning of 20 July, 2022, the same day of the demonstrations after people had already gathered to start the peaceful demonstrations.
“Upon receipt of the injunction, the civil society leaders rushed to the offices of their lawyers in Area 3 in Lilongwe to seek legal advice and to instruct their lawyers to apply to the High Court to vacate the injunction.”
Mhango observed that having been served with the injunction, “the CSO leaders did not start or lead or participate in the demonstrations whatsoever” but while they were “waiting at their lawyer’s offices at Area 3, and away from the route of the demonstrations, the police arrested the CSO leaders, whisked them away and detained them without any charge”.
“Arresting citizens who have not committed any offence is barbaric, unlawful, archaic and smacks of elements of detention without trial for which the MCP is notorious.
“Freedom to demonstrate is entrenched in our Constitution. The courts of Malawi, including the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, have reinforced the inviolability of the freedom to demonstrate.
“It is puzzling, and almost laughable, that the MCP Government finds demonstrations inconvenient when only two years ago, the MCP and its Tonse Alliance partners inflicted upon this nation the most violent demonstrations which were characterized by looting, arson, assault, undressing of women and the killing of a police officer, Superintendent Imedi.”
Thus the DPP demands the “immediate release from police custody, without charge, of these CSO leaders” whilst condemning police action and security agencies “in using teargas and excessive force to disperse citizens that had gathered to await the outcome of the application to vacate the injunction”.
“This manner of treating innocent citizens, which tends to aggravate public emotions, shows clearly that the MCP Government is misguided on the law and has no idea whatsoever of how to run the affairs of our country.
“The MCP Government is failing to manage the economy, failing to control inflation, failing to control the price of basic commodities, failing to secure the IMF program, failing to implement development projects — the list of the MCP Government failures is endless,” said Mhango.
Speaking to Zodiak Online on Wednesday soon after the arrest of more than 40 people, spokesperson for Lilongwe Police, Hastings Chigalu said the group would answer three charges — unlawful assembly, contempt of court and inciting violence.
Video clips circulating on social media show the police using teargas to try to disperse protesters around Biwi Triangle, Lilongwe community centre and Wakawaka market area.
Lilongwe City Council gave Human Rights Ambassadors permission for demonstrations but some concerned business people in Lilongwe obtained an injunction until some other measures are met by the organisers — that included to provide a list of names of individuals who will personally be held responsible for payment of all the damages or theft to the property of the claimants as a result of the demonstrations.
Further, they needed to undertake that the demonstrations would be peaceful — including providing an audio or written communication calling for peaceful demonstrations through a well recognized media house and also providing a public retraction of all the state in the audio of Ben Longwe that incited fear, violence and encouraged commission of offences.
The injunction was obtained by Gift Nankhuni and partners on behalf of John Kwenda and others.
But the demos were eventually hijacked and following the massive damage done, people had mixed reactions to the development — with Samuel Simba saying on Facebook: “Politicians will always play with our minds for their benefit. We will not benefit in any way from this called demonstration rather it will benefit the organizers. We are just being used in Malawi.”
Amos Mateche censured Simba, saying: “I wish you could also say the same when Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence conducted their demonstrations for one full year”, referring to the nationwide demonstrations that were organised against the results of the 2019 tripartite elections.
Gausi Chimwemwe was of the opinion that the likes of Mtambo, Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima benefited from those demonstrations that culminated into the fresh presidential elections as ruled by the Constitutional Court.
Chakwera and Chilima eventually took over government as President and Vice-President, while Mtambo was rewarded with an appointment as Cabinet Minister, leaving Gausi Chimwemwe to now ask: “Did they pay the damages they caused during the July 2019-April 2020 demonstrations?”
He observed that those were the worst demos with most damages, adding that the same government maintains that demos are people’s way of expressing their feelings yet it is the same government stopping it.
Limbani Bello was also of the opinion that the “Tonse Alliance government is a beneficiary of demonstrations” and “now it’s their turn to face pressure from people”.
Cecilia Zingani’s contribution was that the “organisers should be held responsible for business lost even for those that don’t have their properties vandalised while Gracious Kumwenda asked the human rights group why they mobilised “poor people to fight for their war”.
“If you see that something not going well with the government, why don’t you just go straight to the President’s office and talk to him face to face.”
Dafton Salika said: “I don’t see any change even when they demonstrate. Most Malawians do just demonstrate without knowing what they’re demonstrating for. All they want is to rob and vandalise for their personal benefits.
“This injunction is good — those organisers must be held accountable for all the damages which these demonstraters will cause,” he said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :