In less than 36 hours to proposed five-day demonstrations by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) targeting the country’s airports and borders, Ministry of Homeland Security Friday issued threats saying the demonstrators risk treason charges.
The threats, which were voiced in Lilongwe by Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi and Information Minister, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, came barely two days after President Peter Mutharika had ordered Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) to stop the demonstrations which are scheduled to take place from August 26 to 30 to force embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Jane Ansah to resign.
However, HRDC Vice-Chairperson Gift Trapence in an interview described the law used by Dausi as draconian.
He also said the President is not above the law and as such Malawians will express their right to demonstrate.
“The President is not the law and he is not even above the law and these are the issues Malawians want to fight against because dictatorship tendencies like those do not hold anything in our democratic dispensation.
“That is why we are saying Malawians will still go to the streets because that is their constitutional right. The President is not above the law; the President cannot curtail the rights of Malawians when they are constitutional,” he said.
Dausi described closing borders as an act of aggression.
“Our borders and airports are among protected places where demonstrations are not allowed and cannot be allowed. Therefore, we repeat, any attempt to shut down our boarders and airports will be regarded as treasonous attack on the State of Malawi, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.
“As such, government will use every appropriate security measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Government, therefore, appeals to all to disregard the threats by HRDC and its allies Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Transformation Movement (UTM) to shut down Malawi boarders and airports in their so-called demonstrations,” Dausi said.
Dausi said his ministry has issued subsidiary legislations aimed at identifying protected places which demonstrations should not be held.
“Following the announcement by Human rights Defenders Coalition on shutdown to airports and country borders on 26 to 30 this month, I, Minister of Homeland Security, exercise of powers conferred by Section 3 of the Preservation of Public Security Act make following regulation, these regulations may be cited as Preservation of Public Security Act (Control of Demonstrations 2019),” Dausi said.
According to the regulation, any person shall not hold demonstrations or an assembly in protected places.
According to the orders, any person who contravenes the provision of the regulations commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to three months imprisonment.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera described the demos being organised by HRDC as a violation of the law arguing they have capitalised on looting and vandalising property.
However, Kadadzera said airports and land borders are protected areas and they will deal with the demonstrators as the situation will present itself during the scheduled protest marches.
“What we are experiencing are no longer demonstrations as stipulated in the Republican Constitution but acts of aggression on national security and integrity proof is in abundance of both private and public property vandalised and looted because of these riots and unlawful assemblies.
“Airports and land borders are no-go zones; therefore, these rioters or unlawful assemblers on security point of view are not allowed in these places; therefore, we will deal with the situation as it comes,” he said.
But Trapence said the responsibility to provide security lies in the hands of the police.
He said it does not make sense to blame the demonstrators but the police who he claimed are failing to provide the necessary security.
“When you look at our police you will see that they have been partisan that is why they have failed to meet organisers and plan properly because we have not had any planning sessions. If you look at the demonstrations it has taken the courts to give a go ahead of the demonstrations,” he said.
Efforts to speak to MDF spokesperson Paul Chipwanya proved futile as he was reportedly engaged in a meeting.
Meanwhile, the High Court in Blantyre Friday granted an injunction to the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), National Oil Company and the Airport Development Limited stopping HRDC from holding demonstrations near their premises.
HIgh Court Judge Jack Nriva said holding demonstrations in the said places would jeopadise operations of MRA and the national economy.
The injunction effectively means that the demonstrators cannot shut down the country’s airports and borders as it stops them from coming closer to premises.
Lawyer representing HRDC William Chiwaya confirmed the injunction yesterday.
“I can confirm that the High Court in Blantyre has granted Malawi Revenue Authority their wish,” Chiwaya said.
HRDC Chairperson Timothy Mtambo said they received information from their lawyers that the High Court had granted injunction to MRA.
“We will respect the law and as such we are not holding vigils at airport and borders as planned.
“However, since we already planned to demonstrate we are calling Malawians to protest marches nationwide dubbed Two-million Demos,” he said.
He said the demonstrations will start on Wednesday to Friday in the streets of all major cities in the country adding they will not stop the demos until Ansah resigns.
MRA applied to the High Court for an injunction to restrict HRDC planned demonstrations to outside its premises at the borders.
Prior to July 20 2011 demonstrations, former president Bingu wa Mutharika, who came to power in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009, vowed to “ensure peace using any measure I can think of”.
Police on July 20 opened fire at protestors in Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre during the protests sparked by, among others, worsening fuel shortages, rising rices and bad governance.
In 2002, in a case where Malawi Law Society, Episcopal Conference of Malawi and Malawi Council of Churches were applicants against the State and the president, minister of Home Affairs, Inspector General of Police and Army Commander, then High Court Judge Edward Twea, now Justice of Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, ruled against the blanket banning of demonstrations against former president Bakili Muluzi’s bid for a third term of office.