MLS bashes IG, HRDC

Law Society (MLS) has once again berated Inspector General of Police (IG), reminding him that peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right and cited a number of court decisions made before in favour of protests.

MLS has also urged Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) to consider economic losses being incurred through the nationwide demonstrations it has continued to organise.

Protesters carry away a police signpost in Blantyre

The demonstrations that have, in some cases, turned violent, including burning of State structures, especially in the North, were organised to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah, accused of presiding over flawed May 21 Tripartite Elections, to resign.

The lawyers’ body, which recently also rebuked political parties, HRDC and Ansah, who has flatly refused to resign, this time, in a letter dated August 2 2019, has advised HRDC and the Malawi Police Service (MPS) to work together in preparing for the demonstrations.

Demonstrators take to the streets in Mzuzu

In the letter to the IG and HRDC delivered on Friday, MLS urges the two parties to develop a workable operating system suited to both sides to ensure peaceful demonstrations.

MLS also sought professional advice on how the economy is being affected from Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (Icam), and it attached the views solicited to the IG and HRDC.

Describes AG’s plan as ‘a bad idea’: Kaukonde

Icam president, Francis Chinjoka Gondwe, said in his letter dated August 1 2019 to MLS that the unprecedented wave of post-election demonstrations have resulted in destruction of property, loss of business, erosion of the country’s investors’ confidence and compounded people’s uncertainly on economic gains.

MLS requests HRDC and the IG to consider views expressed by Icam.

MLS writes: “If HRDC and police cannot mutually find a way of organising the demonstrations such that peace is guaranteed, then the police may wish to seek guidance from the court under Section 153(3) of the Police Act on how the demonstrations should be conducted.”

The idea, MLS states in the letter signed by its honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, should always be that the demonstrations must be carried out, but always peacefully.

But the MLS letter, which cites decisions made by the courts before in favour of peaceful demonstrations, coincided with a fresh application by the Attorney General (AG), filed to ask the courts to ban the demonstrations.

The office of the AG Kalekeni Kaphale will be asking the courts to ban demonstrations and impose K2 billion collateral to people that may plan to hold demonstrations.

But in an interview yesterday, HRDC deputy chairperson Gift Trapence, whose team is planning nationwide demonstrations this Tuesday, laughed off the AG’s decision, challenging that they would proceed with their demonstrations and were ready to meet the AG in court.

The MLS honorary secretary also described as “a bad idea” the AG’s plan to attempt limiting rights provided for in the Constitution by trying to get an injunction to stop the demonstrations, when courts have made decisions on that before.

“An injunction would just inflame the situation. The better way is for the parties involved to sit down and talk,” Kaukonde said.

Both Kaphale and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala could not be reached on their mobile phones yesterday when we wanted to inquire about their justification for the application to stop the demonstrations.

MLS, in the letter to the IG and HRDC, reminds them of a more illustrative 2002 civil case which the lawyers’ body and others pursued to challenge a ban on demonstrations former president Bakili Muluzi imposed, with the IG and the Army Commander as some of the respondents.

“The court held that such an order violated the tenets of the Constitution as well as the Police Act. The court further noted that in a democratic society, there is always the need to balance the rights of a few individuals against the rights of the majority,” reads the MLS letter, in part.

MLS says police has the duty to protect people’s lives and property but within the constitutional (including the human rights) framework.

The law society earlier warned political parties and leaders, including President Peter Mutharika, to prepare their followers for the outcome of the elections petition case, which may go either way.

Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Chilima are challenging in court Mutharika’s victory as declared by MEC.

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