July 20 report faults ‘trigger-happy’ Cops, MBC

President Mrs Joyce Banda has said never again should Malawians die or even get injured in the course of exercising their rights: be it right to freedom of expression or right to association.

Banda was speaking at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre where she presented the findings of the report into the deadly July 20 anti- Bingu wa Mutharika government protests that killed 20 people and left many injured.

The Head of State  said the report – complied by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry -is very important as it can go a long way to healing wounds in the hearts of the deceased’s relatives caused by the loss of their beloved ones.

President Joyce Banda presents the July 20 report to MISA Malawi Chair Anthony Kasunda at Sanjika on Thursday. Photo by Govati Nyirenda/ MANA

“It is most regrettable that we lost those 20 people,” said the President. “As government we had to know why, how and who took their lives as well as what lessons we could learn from the development.”

President Banda said relatives and the nation of the deceased deserve answers on what happened the on demonstration day.

She said the report indicates that the court injunction that was obtained on 19 July 2011 by Chiza Mbekeani against the demonstrations was “ill-timed and created an element of mistrust.”

Banda said efforts by the police to enforce the injunction led to confrontations with demonstrators that degenerated into public disorder.

Further, the report faults the Police who used excessive force in certain cases in their effort to quell the situation.  The report noted that the amount of live ammunition used was beyond necessity and resulted into deaths and injuries that could have been avoided.

“The police did not handle the situation very well, the use of excessive force is not in tandem with the laws of Malawi and applicable international law. The police also demonstrated lack of sufficient human and material resources as well as lack of crowd management skills,” reads part of the report

The Commission established that some media houses conducted themselves in an unprofessional manner and that contributed to the public disorder.

For instance, the State Broadcaster  MBC  – under the leadership of Bright Malopa -failed to broadcast accurate and balanced information to the public. This deliberate departure from the truth was contrary to the law and only helped to fuel the tension, the report noted.

The reports however said the live coverage of the looting, arson and the consequent deaths and injuries as they unfolded, incited violence in other parts of the country.

These broadcasts were done in contravention of the Communication Act which prohibits broadcasts that are likely to prejudice public order, safety and tranquillity , it was noted.

In their recommendations, the report advices the government to equip Police with no lethal equipment and other supplies necessary  and to investigate Police Officers who acted unlawfully. “Investigations should be broad enough cover to cover persons who were involved in looting and the DPP panga youths incident which took place in Blantyre, and the hacking of a demonstrator ( Phillip Nkutu) at Blantyre Town hall on 20th July.”

The report also advices the District Commissioners to be aware that holding peaceful demonstrations is a Constitutional right and requests for the demonstrations should be responded to without delay.

The media practitioners were advised to be professional and sensitive in dealing with their mandate. Whereas the judiciary to provide guidelines for handling injunctions.

The commission, appointed by late Mutharika, was led by Catholic Bishop emeritus Felix Eugenio Mkhori and other members include lawyer James Naphambo, former cop Titus Thyolamwendo, Apostle Timothy Khoviwa, Levi Mihowa and businessman Chris Giannakis.

July 20 Commissioners
President Joyce Banda presents the July 20 report to MISA Malawi Chair Anthony Kasunda at Sanjika on Thursday. Photo by Govati Nyirenda/ MANA

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