Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), organisers of nationwide peaceful protests that turned ugly last week, insist they will not pay for damage to any public or private property.
In a written response yesterday, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence claimed that those who engaged in violent acts in the course of demonstrations were not part of the protesters, but criminals who infiltrated the protesters.
The HRDC position comes against a background of a call by Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani to organisers of the protests to bear the cost of the damage to property.
But Trapence said the damages happened outside the protesters’ routes as agreed with the police; hence, the organisers are not responsible for the costs.
He said: “Damage to property happened far away from demonstration routes. Any damage to property had nothing to do with demonstrations and demonstration routes.
“Nothing was damaged on the demonstration routes across the country. The few should not dent the image of thousands and thousands of peaceful demonstrators.”
However, in Mzuzu some of the violence happened along the demonstrations route, the dual carriageway Orton Chirwa Highway, as the protesters headed to Mzuzu City Council Civic Offices to deliver their petition demanding the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah for allegedly presiding over a fraudulent electoral process during the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
In the course of the Mzuzu march, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) offices were broken into while a building that housed Mzuzu Agriculture Development Division (ADD), Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Treasury Cashier’s regional office was torched.
Commercial banks along the route, notably NBS Bank, Standard Bank, Nedbank and First Capital Bank, were also not spared the damage.
But in a separate interview yesterday, HRDC Northern Region Chapter chairperson Happy Mhango also claimed that protesters that took part in the damages were not a part of them.
“HRDC had people protesting peacefully to civic offices and those that remained behind are the ones that caused havoc and those were not part of the protesters,” he said.
During the second demonstrations on Thursday, a group of youths suspected to have been among the protesters looted a Spar supermarket and an electronics shop at City Centre in Lilongwe after the marchers had dispersed.
In Karonga, protesters also ransacked offices of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), including Northern Region Water Board, district council, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Forestry and a service station shop.
During the Mzuzu demonstrations, 231 bicycles were stolen from Mzuzu ADD offices. However, Malawi Police Service (MPS) yesterday said 55 of the bicycles have since been recovered and that a total of 68 suspects have been arrested in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Rumphi.
Briefing journalists in Lilongwe on Thursday, Botomani said what the HRDC is doing is nothing but barbaric.