An attack on one journalist is an attack on all journalists. Against all the negativities smeared around it, HRDC needs a friendly media not really to spin its narrative but to winnow out chaff from grain.
On Wednesday this week, during protests organized by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), some demonstrators physically assaulted two journalists, Golden Matonga of Nation Publications Limited and Gladys Nthenda of Kulinji.com in Lilongwe.
The demonstrators also stole Matonga’s mobile phone and money and tore Nthenda’s clothes. They accused the two journalists of being cadets—notorious DPP diehard supporters that are on the sprawl. Matonga and Nthenda’s only sin was to take photographs of the demonstrators in their line of duty. One can only surmise that worse things could have happened had Malawi Defence Force soldiers not intervened and rescued the two in time.
In Malawi, organisers of demonstrations are in a catch-22 situation. While the supreme law of the land confers upon people an inalienable right to demonstrate and enjoy other human freedoms, the same law impugns the barbaric manner and mayhem that demonstrations in the country have become synonymous with. This is because in exercising their rights, some demonstrators fail to recognise the existence of other rights and freedoms which are also enshrined in the Republican Constitution. The problem is that not every participant in a demonstration is there in good faith. Many have their own agendas. Some are thieves and hard core criminals. For them, the demonstrations are a grand opportunity for rioting and looting. Others are plants whose aim is to tarnish the demonstrations. Because there is no vetting of who joins the event, the demonstrations train carries with it all sorts of passengers including criminals, thieves spies and political nemeses.
This is why all demonstrations organized by HRDC have ended with or elicited some regrettable incidents. While organisers will always be smitten with a massive turnout of marchers, unbeknown to them is that a huge number of the marchers are there to make a killing from the event. Not everyone who jumps on the demos train is a true disciple. They show their true colours at the slightest prompting or provocation. It’s high time HRDC smelt the coffee and peremptorily deat with the black vultures drooling over the eggs in the chicken pen.
When organisers are powerless in controlling violence or turn a blind eye to vice, their image suffers. As Misa Malawi rightly put it on Wednesday, all human freedoms and rights, including the right to demonstrate, should be exercised with responsibility. HRDC which has so far thrived on the professional coverage of demonstrations by the media cannot afford to make enemies with the same.
It does not help matters for HRDC to apologise after damage has already been done. It should be proactive and not reactive. It is good the group admits that the media are indispensable partners in its work to entrench respect for rule of law and human rights. That is why they have condemned violence from day one of demonstrations. There is also no contestation that freedom of the press is enshrined in Section 36 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
But these apologies and condemnations have done little to avert the thinking and fear among Malawians that HRDC does not condone violence.
To prove my assertion about who assaulted the two journalists on Wednesday, I can guarantee with the accuracy of carbon dating that the police will not arrest anyone in connection to the Wednesday heinous acts. They have never done so and will never at any time in the foreseeable future, do anything. This is despite the fact that there are always clear leads about the culprits.
We all acknowledge that HRDC is fighting for a good cause, but they can do better.