Malawi Police Service (MPS) South West Region has warned that it will crack down on people who will be armed with any kind of weapon during today’s anti-government demonstrations.
A group called ‘Action against Impunity and Corruption’ is expected to lead the protests in Blantyre to force President Lazarus Chakwera to resign for allegedly failing to scrap off presidential immunity and address the high cost of living.
The policing region’s spokesperson Beatrice Mikuwa said the police will provide adequate security to the protesters, those not taking part in the march and public and private property.
“Protection of lives and property is our responsibility and we assure the public that we are ready to provide adequate security during and after the demonstrations.
“Anyone who will carry weapons around among the protesters or property owners will be presumed to have an intention to commit crimes and we will take action in accordance with the law,” Mikuwa said.
Her sentiments follow what transpired last week in Lilongwe where property owners hired private citizens armed with pangas apparently to ward off the protesters from the property.
Ahead of the demonstrations, a clip circulated on social media on Wednesday night showing some men brandishing brand new machetes and reflector coats, warning that they would deal with demonstrators the following day.
On Thursday morning, clips and pictures also circulated on social media of men in reflector coats, armed with new pangas roaming the streets of Lilongwe before the demonstrations.
One of the convenors of today’s demonstrations, Steve Chimwaza, said they have arranged about 60 marshals to help guiding the protesters and that the police assured them of providing adequate security.
Chimwaza, however, claimed that he came across reports that some business people were organising additional men to secure their businesses.
Executive Secretary for the Malawi Human Rights Commission Habiba Osman warned that the decision by the police to allow property owners to acquire services of armed men might perpetuate and entrench lawlessness.
Osman said the police should have instead encouraged landlords and business owners to ensure security of their property “within the confines of the law”.
“Police have a duty to protect citizens and their property and if people are asked to complement that, they have to do it within the confines of the law. The law does not allow people to be carrying pangas around in the name of protecting themselves and their property,” Osman said.