There were running battles between the police and protesters in Lilongwe Wednesday after the High Court granted an injunction to some individuals who were against the ‘anti-Judiciary’ demonstrations.
The protests were organised by a group called Human Rights Ambassadors (HRA) over what they described as selective justice by judicial officers.
By the time we went to press, Lilongwe Police Station spokesperson, Hastings Chigalu, had indicated that 76 people had been arrested following the fracas.
Chigalu said no serious damage had been caused to property in the course of the demonstrations and that no one was injured.
Tension started simmering as early as 8am as riot police officers fired teargas canisters to disperse the demonstrators who had blocked the M1 Road with burning tyres.
The tense atmosphere brought business to a standstill as schools, shops and other business premises got closed.
Around 8:30am, the demonstrators, who had gathered near Lilongwe Community Centre Ground, split into groups with one section heading up the M1 Road towards Wakawaka Produce Market where another group had assembled.
Another section, armed with pangas, sticks and stones, headed towards Falls Estate Township while another group remained at the community ground.
Though the organisers had indicated selective justice as the motive behind the demonstrations, random interviews with the protesters revealed some had taken to the streets for other reasons.
“Life is hard; everything is expensive now. Nothing is working,” one protester said.
According to the order of injunction by the court, the demonstrators were supposed to first provide a list of names of individuals who would be personally held responsible for payment of all the damages to or theft of property of the claimants as a result of the demonstrations.
The injunction also demanded that the demonstrators should undertake that the protests would be peaceful.
“Provide audio or written communication calling for peaceful demonstrations through any well-recognised media house.
“Provide a public retraction of all the statements in the audio of Mr Ben Longwe that incited fear, violence and encouraged the commission of offences. The communication should be made before a well-recognised media house,” some of the points in support of the injunction read.
The point on Longwe is in relation to an audio in which he was allegedly inciting Malawians to rise up against judicial officers whom he accused of not being fair in their decisions.
Meanwhile, government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, described the demonstrations as an act of lawlessness because there was a court injunction against the same.
Kazako said no one is above the law and that what had happened was of great concern.
He also stressed that government had granted HRA permission to go ahead with their protests but that the injunction which had been sought by other concerned citizens needed to be respected.
“One of the tenets we believe in is the rule of law and then if the court issued an injunction, it was very important for those that organised these demonstrations to comply with the order.
“You cannot be above the law regardless of who you are, not even the President. The President is a chief custodian of the Constitution and there are certain things that he would have loved to do, but he does not do because the law does not allow him to,” Kazako said.
On the other hand, the minister insisted government cannot stop non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from organising peaceful protests but wondered whether “some of these are NGOs or commercial companies” that do things to woo donors and make money.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.