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Tempers flare at Attorney General, HRDC meeting

By Rebecca Chimjeka:

BREAK—Mtambo (centre) talks to members of the negotiating team

Tempers flared in Lilongwe Wednesday during a meeting between Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and Attorney General (AG) officials as the two parties failed to agree on some recommendations guiding the future of post-elections demonstrations in the country.

The two teams are expected to present the recommendations to Supreme Court Judge, Lovemore Chikopa, who sanctioned the dialogue through a 14-day moratorium for the stakeholders to find ways of ensuring that the protests are free of violence.

The meeting, which was initially supposed to take place at Malawi Defence Force’s Kamuzu Barracks, was shifted to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Office.

Tempers started boiling when AG’s team shot down a proposal from HRDC side that “police must stop taking pleasure in allowing DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] cadets harassing, beating and sometimes maiming demonstrators in the security agency’s full view as this only agitates and angers demonstrators some of whom turn violent and [in the end]makes them resent the police”.

The AG’s team expressed displeasure with the mention of DPP cadets, saying there was no evidence that the governing party youths were involved in disrupting the demonstrations.

This did not go down well with HRDC team which threatened to walk out of the meeting claiming that the AG side was siding with DPP cadets.

After failing to agree on the matter for about an hour, the meeting went into a five-minute recess after which AG’s team agreed that police should discipline alleged DPP cadets who try to perpetrate violence during demonstrations.

The meeting later agreed to all but a few recommendations from AG and HRDC teams.

The two thorny recommendations that remained unresolved during the meeting include a proposal by AG’s team that HRDC should provide transport to demonstrators from point of delivery of petitions back to the demonstrators’ respective homes.

AG’s team argued that most lootings take place as the demonstrators are dispersing from demonstration destination.

“There is, therefore, need for conveners to hire lorries or buses which should ferry people back to the place of commencement of demonstrations.

“It shall be the responsibility of marshals and conveners to make sure that all demonstrators are properly dismissed to their respective places of residence and that no informal gatherings should take place thereafter,” reads part of the demand from AG’s team.

However, HRDC team objected to the recommendation and resolved that the court should decide the matter.

The meeting also failed to reach an agreement on a proposal by AG’s team banning block booking of demonstration days.

AG’s team wanted the meeting to agree that each demonstration day should have its own notification.

HRDC also objected to a proposal to provide a true reflection of anticipated numbers of demonstrators in every demonstration.

Nevertheless, the meeting agreed that police should deal with any deviants during demonstrations as criminals.

The dialogue teams also agreed that demonstrations should not lead to total government shutdown.

They also agreed that political party leaders should not be allowed to address demonstrators.

They also agreed that there must be negotiations involving all stakeholders before demonstrations.

Interestingly, the meeting did not discuss the issue of who would bear the cost of looting after demonstrations.

After the meeting, HRDC lawyer, Khwima Mchizi and AG lawyer, Neverson Chisiza, described the indaba as cordial, adding that it registered good progress.

HRDC has been organising the demonstrations pushing for Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Jane Ansah’s resignation, accusing her of mismanaging May 21 tripartite elections results which Malawi Congress Party and UTM are challenging at the Constitutional Court.

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