State-funded human rights watchdog, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), has faulted the police for their heavy-handedness and the manner in which the law enforcers handled the arrest of activist Sylvester Namiwa and 10 others who were exercising their right to peacefully demonstrate outside Parliament Building in Lilongwe.
MHRC chairperson Scader Louis says in a statement issued today that the preliminary investigations they conducted on the matter and noted a number of human rights violations.
Louis says they are concerned that a human rights activist was arrested for merely exercising his right, stressing that albeit existing irregularities, the police ought to have stopped the demonstrations and not arrest the human rights activist.
“The Commission is concerned with the manner in which Mr. Namiwa was roughed up by the police during his arrest. This was undignified. As if that was not enough, he was handcuffed and whisked away to Linthipe Police Unit in Dedza, yet the events leading to his arrest happened in Lilongwe. There was no justification for this action, which in the process, denied his relatives, lawyers and fellow comrades the right to communicate with him,” reads the statement in part.
The MHRC investigations established that after he was taken back to Lilongwe, Namiwa was placed in a solitary cell at Lilongwe Police Station and was put in leg irons as if he was a dangerous criminal.
The Commission has strongly condemned police action, which it says is not in line with the Constitution of Malawi as well as international human rights standards.
“Section 42 of the Constitution states that every arrested person must be held under conditions that are consistent with human dignity. Placing a suspect of crime under leg irons is inconsistent with human dignity and should be condemned without any reservations. It is a relic of the past and should not be condoned under the new democratic regime where our police service is expected to abide by human rights standards in the performance of their duties. There is no justification at all for any suspect to be treated as if they are a condemned prisoner. One must always be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law,” emphasizes Louis.
She further cites Section 42 of the Constitution, which states that a detained person must be given the means and opportunity to communicate with and to be visited by his or her spouse, partner, next of kin, relative, religious counsellor and medical practitioner of his or her choice.
The same section states that an arrested person must be allowed to consult confidentially with their legal practitioner.
Thus, Louis says the actions of the police by whisking Namiwa away from Lilongwe to Dedza made it very difficult for all these rights to be exercised.
She demands that the Inspector General of Police must explain why this was done and for what justification.
“He must also explain and justify why a leader of a public demonstration should be put in leg irons. Furthermore, the Commission is concerned that Mr. Namiwa was not granted police bail on the same day of his arrest, although the reasons for his arrest were unjustified and he did not resist the arrest. Meanwhile, recent events have shown that some suspects being accused of serious criminal offences are being granted police bail. There must be consistency and fairness in treating all persons without discrimination,” Louis observes.
MHRC has also condemned in the strongest terms any State sponsored attacks on human rights defenders and in particular the detention of rights activist Namiwa of Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI).
It says all the actions of manhandling him and denying him bail were unnecessary and uncalled for. These actions are contrary to the police reforms that have been championed for decades.
“The Commission will therefore conduct full investigations into the matter and will release findings of the investigations in due course. The Commission also calls upon the Commissioner of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to conduct independent investigations into this matter,” recommends Louis.
There was no immediate comment from the police.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :