Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country have differed on issues surrounding treason charges levelled against three prominent opposition politicians in the country and whether or not it was right for them to be released.
This week Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislators Jessie Kabwila, Peter Chankhwantha and official of the party, Ulemu Msungama, were arrested and charged with treason after it was discovered that they were allegedly discussing to topple the current government of Peter Mutharika through their WhatsApp group.
Reacting to the development on Tuesday, spokesperson of the Civil Society Coalition (CSC), Lucky Mbewe, said people should regard the arrest of the three politicians as a criminal matter not a political one.
“Any discussion bordering on toppling a legitimate government is a serious and treasonable matter and should be treated as such. It was right to arrest those politicians because they are not above the law.
“These are legislators and one would expect them to follow the law and they pretty well know that the law does not apply selectively. This is a criminal matter and it was right that the police treated it that way,” he said.
Mbewe also took a swipe at opposition Members of Parliament who brought up the issue in Parliament by demanding that the matter be deliberated in the House.
“The issue of privileges does not come up on this because we are talking about treason which is a criminal matter. Whatever transpired in the House is unfortunate and demonstrates lack of seriousness by the opposition in Parliament. “It raises serious doubts about the credibility of our legislators in terms of whether they have the passion of Malawians at heart.
This is coming from last week’s Pac [Public Affairs Committee] meeting where a well-organised meeting turned into a political battlefield and allowed unnecessary tension and ultimatums to take centre-stage,” Mbewe said.
He also accused the Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya, for letting Kabwila flee from police using his official vehicle.
“As a parent he shouldn’t have done that because he is showing his political side; let him learn from former speakers such as Louis Chimango, who rose above his political affiliation in the way he managed the House. What the Speaker did compromises his position,” Mbewe observed.
Another human rights activist, Maziko Matemba, believes the arrests were done in the best interest of the nation.
“I am convinced that the police did their job following the Constitution which is the supreme law of the country. Even though the issues concern matters of privilege, I believe with the direction it is taking, the end losers will be ordinary people in the villages.
“If legislators, especially from the opposition side, continue to let the issue derail their vision for the nation, posterity will judge them bad. They need to balance up every situation and, although emotions are high, they should allow the law to take its course in the matter concerning the two legislators as they continue to discuss issues of national importance,” Matemba stated.
But renowned activist Billy Mayaya described the manner in which government handled the issue as serious breach of democratic principles.
“Government should not be desperate to divert people’s attention from the teething economic and food challenges by bringing in such frivolous charges. Let it be resolute in finding solutions to these problems rather than causing unwarranted fear,” Mayaya said.
Meanwhile, government has assured Members of Parliament (MPs) that their privileges will no longer be breached during any sitting as stipulated in the Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act.
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