Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiative (Cdedi) executive director Sylvester Namiwa spent a night in custody following his arrest in Lilongwe yesterday for allegedly holding illegal protests.
Police picked Namiwa outside Parliament Building where his organisation was holding vigils to force Parliament leadership to explain how a Loan Authorisation Bill of K93 billion found itself on the Order Paper—an outline of issues to be discussed in Parliament—without the approval and knowledge of key stakeholders, including Cabinet.
The Cdedi head proceeded with the planned vigil despite Lilongwe City Council not granting him permission citing security as the country is hosting the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Summit and the worsening Covid-19 situation.
The police said Namiwa contravened Section 108 of Police Act by disregarding Lilongwe City Council’s decision not to grant him permission.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera in an interview yesterday said the law enforcers will charge and take the activist to court within the 48-hour rule.
On why they only arrested one person, leaving out other protesters, he said several people were also arrested, but he was yet to know their identities.
Said Kadadzera: “Namiwa’s notice was not approved by the city council and it was wrong for him to proceed with the vigils because he broke the law; hence, his arrest.”
But a governance expert Rafiq Hajat queried the police action, arguing that the Constitution is clear on the right of assembly for citizens in the country.
He said insisting that demonstrators should first get permission before going on the streets is undemocratic and a violation of people’s rights.
Said Hajat:” As CSOs, we have run into such challenges with the police, especially when demonstrating on very sensitive issues. The July 20 demonstrations in 2011 are a good example. The police stopped us from marching until we got a court injunction.
“This just goes to show that there is a challenge before us and this issue needs to be cleared to avoid further confrontations between protesters and police in future.”
On his part, Human Right Defenders Coalition (HRDC) national chairperson Gift Trapence called for unconditional release of the activist.
“One doesn’t need to beg to hold demonstrations. Actually, HRDC went to court on this matter and we went as far as the Supreme Court. We demand his release,” he said.