Don’t shun your duty

In its letter to players in the post-election fiasco, the Malawi Law Society (MLS), for one, pointed out that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) was failing to discharge its duties in handling the anti-Jane Ansah protests. The society called on MPS to investigate and publicise the underlying reasons for the continued destruction of property during the demos.

It is a foregone fact that the demonstrations have been marred by ugly scenes of violence and looting. Public and private property has been destroyed before, during and after the demos in some parts of the country. At times, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) has come in to quell the violence.

As a matter of fact, some of the people whose property has been looted, have sued the demonstration organisers Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) for about K500 million for the loss.

A couple of weeks after MLS called on police to explain why the unnecessary aggression, the police still seems clueless as to why there is violence, let alone how to control it. That is, if the letter Inspector General Rodney Jose wrote HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo is anything to go by.

In the letter, Jose demands Mtambo to stop the demonstrations as property is being damaged, inspite of HRDC saying they are holding peaceful demonstrations. In his words, Jose says the police are incapacitated and can’t control the rowdy crowds.

Like everyone else, Jose should be concerned with the violence. But then, his demanding a stop to the demonstrations is uncalled for. Saying police will not offer protection to the citizens during the demonstrations is abscondment.

The IG knows full well that peaceful demonstrations are guaranteed in the Constitution and that no-one can take away Malawians’ right to demonstrate freely and air their opinions in public places and streets. Jose uses the Police Act to justify his demands.

What he forgot, or deliberately chose to ignore, is that any Act that is contrary to constitutional provisions is inferior.

The Police Act guides, to the letter, how the police is supposed to perform in demonstrations. It has neither authority nor mandate to stop any demonstration. The police role in stopping demonstrations is only when they turn violent. Which is why the IG has to put its house in order and organise his forces to be well-equipped in crowd control.

What we have seen is a police that is only bound to unleash tear gas on demonstrators. We have seen some party ruffians beating up demonstators in full view of the police. This calls to question the police professionalism under Jose.

It is a legitimate right for people to carry their opinions on the street. Such public assemblies are not, and will never be, an enemy. It is the role of the police to facilitate peaceful demonstrations, not restrict such an assembly.

In view of the violence emanating from the demonstrations, we should have been hearing that police, led by Jose, were talking to the demo conveners and local councils and DCs on how to end the fracas. Such meetings would create the much-needed understanding and reduce tensions.

The police, having been notified by DCs or executive officers of local councils, have a role to ensure that demonstrators are not armed with guns and knives and other weaponry, are not disguised and tell the people to disperse if violence creeps in. Police should not abscond from its duties, as Jose would have us believe.

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