Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers from Chirumba Barracks on Thursday attacked a group of radical protesters holding demonstration in Karonga for vandalising and looting privately owned Chipiku stores and Simama shops.
The group of young men were among hundreds of protesters in Karonga holding a vigil at Karonga Roundabout, where they pledged to camp until Friday. The vigil was called by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) against Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah.
The protesters reportedly attacked two MDF officers for restraining them from damaging property and blocking motorists.
One of HRDC leaders, Steve Simsokwe, confirmed that some people were attacked by MDF soldiers.
He said protesters and MDF soldiers were engaging in running battles as the security agency tried to open the M1 so that motorists can access to Songwe Border.
Video clips circulated show the army soldiers brutally attacking the men, whipping and soaking them on the ground.
One of the country’s prominent lawyers Bright Theu commented on one of the video clips on his Facebook page, saying it was military brutality.
“This level of brutality? Whither the right to dignity and the prohibition not to subject anyone to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment? The army? Or Cadets?” wrote Theu to caption the video of the attacks.
Meanwhile, Police in the north say they have arrested over 20 people who engaged in running battles with the law enforcers for aborted protests in Mzuzu.
Police spokesperson for the north Peter Kalaya said the protesters were picked in Karonga, Mzuzu and Rumphi.
“They were engaged in illegal demonstrations. They started attacking the police and MDF soldiers by pelting them with stones,” said Kalaya.
He said the running battles were in some places ignited when the protesters blocked roads.
Eye witnesses said the situation in Mzuzu and Karonga remain volatile although the police and the military soldiers are patrolling the hotspots.
HRDC chairperson for the north Happy Mhango said his organization did not sanction the protests.
“Our leaders explained yesterday that the protests have been suspended for today and tomorrow to pave way for the meeting which has been called by the Supreme Court,” he said.
He refused to call the protests illegal, saying other people might have organised them but emphasized the HRDC was not part of the organisers.
HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence confirmed that the coalition has cancelled the protests slated for Thursday and Friday in all cities to allow the leaders of the protest movement meet its legal team in Blantyre to strategise on challenging the injunction that was is restraining HRDC from holding protests in airports and borders.