The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has announced plans for three-day nationwide protests starting Wednesday this week.
The coalition also says it will challenge the injunction the High Court granted Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and others on Friday stopping five-day protests that were planned for airports and border posts.
Addressing the press at his Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) offices in the capital Lilongwe on Monday, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo said while they are challenging the injunction in court, they have resolved to hold a three-day demonstration in all 28 districts of the country to allow people exercise their constitutional right to demand Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah’s resignation.
HRDC has been leading nationwide demonstrations to force Ansah to resign for allegedly presiding over a flawed May 21 presidential election, which was marred by use of correction fluid Tippex to alter figures on result sheets.
Last week, MRA, Airport Development Limited and National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) obtained an injunction restraining HRDC from holding protests at their premises, mostly located at border posts and airports, citing security concerns.
During the commissioning of two warships and four high-speed interceptor boats at Malawi Defence Force’s (MDF) Maritime headquarters in Mangochi, President Peter Mutharika issued a verbal order for the MDF and Malawi Police Service to ensure the demonstrations were cancelled.
Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi and his Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology counterpart Mark Botomani also held a press briefing where they announced that government had gazetted laws stopping the protests.
But Mtambo said the actions were an infringement of Malawians’ right to demonstrate at a place of their choice.
He said: “The presidential order and the MRA injunction were done within the same week. This is why HRDC believes there was political influence to ensure demonstrations are not done at those strategic places.
“The President has been [silent all along], so to start issuing threats and asking soldiers to attack its citizens is something we will not fear. A leader is supposed to protect everyone…”
However, State House and Presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani in a written response argued that the President has a constitutional obligation to protect the country’s citizens when their lives and property are at risk.
He said the President is not against peaceful protests because he realises that demonstrations are a constitutional right for all citizens.
Said Kalilani: “As leader of this country, the President has a constitutional responsibility to protect all citizens from criminals, no matter what fashion criminals commit their transgressions.
“What the President has done is to order the MDF and the police to deal decisively with all criminals harassing innocent Malawians in the name of demonstrations. There is nothing wrong with that. ”
The HRDC has since said it will hold the three-day nationwide protests from Wednesday till Friday this week to force Ansah step down from her position.
Asked whether they have engaged police for security following concerns of looting and violence during previous demonstrations, HRDC deputy chairperson Gift Trapence said he doubted if police will ever do their job professionally.
HRDC has since threatened to engage members of Parliament (MPs) so that they do not confirm the newly-appointed Acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa, saying he is a governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sympathiser.
Mwapasa refused to comment on the matter on Monday when Nation Online sought his reaction.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera did not pick up our phone calls on several attempts.
HRDC, which has been holding demonstrations since the announcement of the May 21 presidential election results, wants Ansah to resign to pave the way for investigations into identifying and prosecuting those who supplied Tippex that was used to alter elections figures on result sheets.
The demonstrations have in some cases been marred by looting and violence.
Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, has dismissed calls for her to resign, saying she would only step down if the court found her leadership to have failed to discharge its duties.
MEC declared President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) winner of the presidential race in the May 21 Tripartite Elections with 1 940 709 votes, representing 38.57 percent.
He was trailed by MCP presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera who came second with 1 781 740 votes, representing 35.41 percent while his UTM Party counterpart Saulos Chilima came a distant third with 1 018 369 votes ,representing 20.24 percent, ahead of four other aspirants.
Chilima and Chakwera filed a petition in the Constitutional Court seeking nullification of the presidential election results. They cite alleged flaws in the results management process as a key factor for their case.
The hearing is set to continue on September 3 after a week-long break following an 11-day initial process in which Chilima and one witness Mirriam Gwalidi took to the witness stand.
The next demonstrations were scheduled for August 26 to 30 in the country’s airports and ports of entry to be followed by a “two million march” in the four cities of Mzuzu, Zomba, Lilongwe and Blantyre on September 5 this year.
However, the High Court last week granted an injunction to MRA stopping the five-day demonstrations at the country’s borders and airports.