Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enoch Chihana has condemned threats to freedom of speech through arrests of people deemed to be critical of President Peter Mutharika.
In his speech during an opposition solidarity rally he co-addressed with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and Malawi Forum for Development (Mafunde) leader George Nnensa at Nyambadwe Primary School ground in Blantyre on Sunday, Chihana said such arrests undermine the essence of democracy and violate provisions in the Constitution.
He said if Mutharika does not want to be criticised or insulted he should step down from the presidency and make way for others.
Said Chihana: “When applying for the post of presidency, a lot of promises are made such as that hunger opportunities will be created.
“When those promises are not delivered, Malawians are free to make hate speech towards you.
“My father [the late] Chakufwa Chihana was arrested for seven years. The story behind was that Malawians should have freedom of speech. So, there is no way I can be arrested for speaking my mind. My father was already arrested. I will never get arrested again. Chakufwa already served the jail term for me. So, Peter allow me to criticise you the way I want.”
His remarks drew wild cheers and hand clapping from the audience.
Making his speech, Chakwera touched on several issues, including the current food situation in the country, drug shortage in public hospitals, public service reforms and reduction of presidential powers, corruption as well as the need for the civil service to be independent.
He said Malawians are facing enormous problems.
Chakwera, in an apparent reference to a night of prayer Mutharika attended at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on Friday, said in the wake of the problems, it was good that the country has turned to God for help.
Commenting on the political violence in Mzuzu where people ambushed a similar solidarity rally he Chihana and other opposition leaders addressed, Chakwera said unity should come first.
In his remarks, Nnensa also touched on the economic situation of the country, saying it is suffering from multiple organ failure and it is in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Last month, police arrested Patrick Semu, 19, an information and communications technology (ICT) student at Daeyang Luke University in Lilongwe for allegedly criticising Mutharika.
In September last year, 60-year-old Alinafe Paulo was fined K3 000 (about $5) or in default serve three months imprisonment with hard labour (IHL) after being found guilty of insulting the President.
Making a statement soon after the student’s incident, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter said Section 35 of the Constitution, which the President swore to defend, provides that ‘every person shall have the right to freedom of expression’ and criticising the President falls within the framework of this provision and should never warrant an arrest.
Reacting to Chihana’s remarks last evening, Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango said freedom of speech and freedom of expression have got limitations and should be exercised with responsibility.
He said: “If you go beyond the limits, you have to account for your speech.”