Human rights activists have stood up demanding that the State suspends Section 4 of the penal code prosecutions, saying the ruling party is using it to persecute political opponents.
The chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Timothy Mtambo said this in view of the arrest UTM director of youth Bon Kalindo.
Kalindo was arrested on Thursday for disorderly conduct and allegedly insulting the president.
“This law is being abused. The DPP government just wants to silence political opponents and critics using this law. The DPP just want to ensure that nobody criticizes the president even if he is wrong,” said Mtambo at a news conference.
But Khumbo Soko, a law expert said the activists are directing the issue to a wrong party.
“What they should do is to go to the courts and ask the courts to suspend the law, the government cannot suspend the law,” said Soko.
Information minister Henry Mussa said he was surprised that the CSOs are talking negative of the law now when it has been there since the colonial era.
“This law was not created by the DPP. The DPP found it in the statutes and we are just implementing it,” said Mussa.
Kalindo was charged with disorderly conduct contrary to Section 153 (1) of the Police Act as well as Insulting the president contrary to Section 4 of the Protection of Flags, Emblems and Names Act.
Governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali said such laws are in conflict with theories of democracy and servant leadership, and can only find a place in a dictatorship leadership model.
“Such laws accord the President a demi-god status whereby the sitting President and those in the rulling party are given a license to hurl insults on political opponents while shielding them from prosecution. Such laws have no place in the current democratic dispensation.
“ If government feels that such laws are important to protect the dignity of the president, then certainly the immunity law that protects the President from prosecution should be removed and the President should be charged for insulting opposition leaders and anyone else,” Munthali told Nyasa Times.
He argued that a Law that promotes selective justice is a bad law.
“What is worse calling the President ‘maliseche athu’ and calling him ‘wapenga’. But the one who called the President maliseche athu got away with it.”
Munthali said there should be a moratorium (suspension of the law) in place on all these Laws to allow a review of such laws in the context of the immunity of the President and our Constitution.
“ If we think such Laws should continue in order to protect the dignity and respect of the office of the President then Members of Parliament should come up with a Law that should also criminalise Presidential insults against opposition leaders, civil society leaders or any critics of the government. In this regard, MPs should pass an amendment Bill removing the immunity of the President from prosecution so that he or she can also face arrests in the context of insulting other leaders.”
The HRDC vice chairperson Gift Trapence noted that over the years the DPP regime has employed the “archaic” law to muzzle and silence critics.
Last year the government pounced on President Mutharika’s niece Abiti Manice and charged her with insulting the president, the case has since been discontinued.
In February 2018, Mike Suide, a primary school teacher was given a 12 month suspended sentence for mocking the president, in 2015 60 year old Alinafe Paul was arrested, charged and fined MK3000 for insulting the president and a security officer for a private company was also arrested on the same archaic charge.
“We note a very serious and worrisome trend in these arrests, government targets either those that are very critical or those are poor. On the other hand these archaic laws are applied selectively as we have often noted that this law spares those that sympathizes y with the power that be.
“We recall how government is timid to use this law of the DPP hooligans that caused havoc at Parliament in June 2018 and at recently at Kawale Police,” he said.
Trapence hinted that the Republican Constitution gives each and every person and legitimate organization rights to freely associate and speak on matters of national concern saying when citizens raise issues, they are aimed at helping the duty bearers to do the right things.
Simply put, he said, “the arresting citizens to silence state critics will not only reflect badly on the governing elite, but will go down towards creating a society bent on revenge, violence and which does not respect the rule of law.”
He said government should immediately act on the pertinent and serious issues of national interest that are affecting Malawians rather than diverting Malawians real attention to lame and baseless things.
Trapence also disclosed that the coalition through its legal team is going to audit the penal code and challenge all the archaic laws before the courts.
“These laws have nothing to do in a democratic dispensation, we are grouping to challenge them before the courts to see into it that they are repealed,” he said.
Eastern Region chief resident magistrate Mzondi Mvula yesterday reserved to Monday his ruling on a bail application by Kalindo.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :