AG hits at demo plans

The Attorney General (AG) KalekeniKaphale says government is shocked by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) announcement to hold nationwide demonstrations from Wednesday to Friday next week.

Kaphale, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said HRDC has rushed to set dates for their next demonstrations when the two sides have not met some of the conditions the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ordered them to honour in a 14-day moratorium it issued.

He said the two parties are yet to present to the court a document on the issues they agreed on during the last engagement meeting held last week at the United Nations (UN) offices in Lilongwe.

Protesters during past HRDC-planned demos

HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo on Wednesday announced at a press briefing that following the expiry of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal 14-day moratorium on the protests to force Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah to resign, the grouping will hold three-day nationwide demonstrations next week.

He said: “This is the two million march that failed to take place. We will hold mass protests until Ansah and her team resign. We said that if they don’t resign, we will use an incremental approach strategy until they step down.”

But Kaphale said HRDC has a questionable motive.

Said the AG: “To be honest, they were not engaging in good faith. The court said we should agree and present to it what we had agreed. But they have announced dates for demonstrations before we have gone back to court.”

The AG, who filed an application to restrain HRDC from holding any further protests, alleged that HRDC has also not alerted police on the matter, a development he feels the human rights activists were not engaging in good faith.

On why they did not go back to court within the stated time, the AG said the responsible judge has not been in office until Wednesday.

But HRDC lawyer Khwima Mchizi dismissed Kaphale’s claim, saying the AG is trying to take a strange approach which the court did not direct when it issued the moratorium.

He said: “I think the AG is taking a wrong approach. The court said we should discuss within 14 days and there is nowhere it mentioned that we should not announce dates for demonstrations after discussions.”

Despite President Peter Mutharika making it clear that he will not fire Ansah, HRDC has vowed to continue with the protests until the MEC chair and her team resign.

The demonstrations were suspended following the 14-day moratorium which prevented HRDC leaders from holding protests until they agree with the government side on modalities for holding violent-free demonstrations.

The moratorium elapsed on Tuesday this week, a development that has led HRDC leaders to swiftly set another series of nationwide protests to force Ansah and her team of commissioners to step down for allegedly overseeing a fraudulent May 21, 2019 elections.

Previous demonstrations were marred by severe destruction of property belonging to both government and the private sector. This influenced the AG to apply for an injunction restraining HRDC from holding further demonstrations.

Last week’s meeting ended on a good note as both sides agreed on modalities to ensure peaceful demonstrations.

Reverend McDonald Sembereka, one of HRDC organisers, assured in an interview yesterday that next week’s demonstrations will be peaceful as the Malawi Police Service committed not to use tears gas or any excessive force on demonstrators.

He said: “During the meeting, we agreed and disagreed on a number of issues. One of the issues that we did not agree on is the demand from government that we should provide marshals in the ratios of 1:50, but we said no to this.

“We also agreed that police should not provoke protesters or use any tear gas against demonstrators. Police agreed that they will not use any tears as has been the case.”

National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera refused to comment on whether police have committed to not provoke or use tear gas during the planned demonstrations.

He said: “I do not have any information on the new announcement about demonstrations.”

Meanwhile, Kaphale says government officials will meet to map the way forward on the matter. However, he did not elaborate the action his office will take.

The nationwide protests were halted at the eleventh hour two weeks ago while HRDC was mobilising two million people for a march in the country’s cities.

The demonstrations, which were scheduled to take place at the country’s airports and border posts, were also stopped by an injunction that Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), Airport Development Limited, and National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) took.

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