When the arrests begin, you only know

The swiftness with which the Malawi Police Service (MPS) acted on Sunday in arresting activists Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, wwhile also searching for Timothy Mtambo, is astounding. It is beyond belief the arrests were influenced as they were made a few hours after President Peter Mutharika and some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalwarts issued stern warnings on the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders for state residence shut down on March 25.

During the inaugural rally with their election alliance partner the United Democratic Front (UDF), Mutharika ordered the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and the police to use all necessary force to stop the HRDC’s demos calling on Mutharika to fire Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners. Visibly irked, Mutharika said enough was enough for the actvists.

The President’s remarks came shortly after DPP secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey warning the opposition and HRDC, stated that ‘when a witch says you are going to die, she lives to her word’.  And Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi said Mtambo and others were under heavy surveillance.

Before they could ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ as Mutharika suggested, the police were at their doors, wielding handcuffs. The three are now out on bail.

The arrests came at a time the police are taking eons to arrest their colleagues who raped and molested 17 women at Nsundwe, Mbwatalika and  Mpingu in Lilongwe. Every time they are asked when they are pouncing on the errant officers, police always say they are still investigating. With the arrest of the HRDC activists, police said they were now gathering the evidence. Talk of putting the ox before the cart!

There are a lot of things police should be engaged in now, like the increased cases of mob justice instead of pouncing on activists doing their job.

The Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa Depose Muchena put it crudely when he said news of the arrests was ‘deeply troubling, coming amid the highly-charged political environment’.

He added: “The arrests are part of a well-orchestrated campaign aimed at intimidating and harassing activists.”

The international dent on the DPP regime’s human rights image is also clear, as the activists this week appeared on the global Front Line Defenders list facing arbitrary arrests. When the arrests begin they signal and chronicle the times of a regime on a knife’s edge.

While we are at it, MEC, which is at the centre of all this fray, continues to be adamant in its approach. As Malawians await the day Mutharika will fire the commissioners, the electoral body goes ahead to employ obscure South African lawyers to help in its presidential election nullification appeal case. The kind of insensitivity at MEC will only bamboozle you.

How else can you explain the extravagance to engage the lawyers at K600 million when local lawyers have already done the groundwork in the case? Is MEC telling us there are no Malawian lawyers capable of handling the case at the level it has escalated? How were the services of the lawyers procured?

It is clear that this is a point of no return as Malawians will still have to foot the bill, since MEC and Mboweni Maluleke Inc Attorneys already entered contract where MEC would pay half that amount by March 13 and the other half on completion of the case. Read this clearly, MEC can’t withdraw since that will be a breach of contract. For that matter, whether MEC wins the appeal case or not, Malawians will foot the bill.

At all costs, one wonders, what is MEC’s hidden benefits in this case? What is at stake for them? Is the Malawian on the street anywhere in the equation?

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