The High Court of Malawi has ordered President Peter Mutharika to personally receive a petition on governance concerns from civil society organisations (CSOs) under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in Lilongwe this morning.
The court order, which followed earlier communication from Lilongwe City Council (LCC) chief executive officer Moza Zeleza restricting the protests from Kamuzu Central Hospital roundabout to Lilongwe Civic Offices, also grants the petitioners the freedom to use routes of their choice.
Reads the order granted by High Court judge Charles Mkandawire: “It is hereby ordered as follows: (1). That the conditions imposed by the defendant [LCC] with regard to the route of the demonstrations to be conducted on 21st September 2018 and the final destination to deliver the petition and limiting the period of demonstration from 7am to 9.30am be and are hereby set aside.
“That consequently, the applicants [Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and Billy Mayaya] shall use the time and route indicated in the notification letter dated 3rd September 2018 and the demonstrations shall start at 7am from Lilongwe Community ground via Mchesi via Central Hospital roundabout via Lingadzi roundabout via Parliament then deliver the petition to the State President at the Capital Hill.”
William Chiwaya, lawyer representing the petitioners, said the order means that only Mutharika can receive the petition and that failure to do so on the part of the President would be regarded as contempt of court.
Ironically, the President is scheduled to depart for New York at 4pm today for the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (Unga), according to statement from Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara.
Prior to today’s planned demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities, HRDC struggled to get permission from the city councils.
In Lilongwe, the city council restricted the protests to two and a half hours and that the petition be delivered at the Civic Offices, not Capital Hill as initially planned.
There was also no preparatory meeting on the protests among LCC, HRDC and the police, a development Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Alfred Majamanda faulted in an interview yesterday.
He said: “Under the Police Act, all demonstrations must be preceded by that preparatory meeting where you agree on the contact persons, the route and other such things. So, the first error here would be to proceed without that meeting. That’s an omission.
“However, one can’t rule out malicious allocation of routes to stifle demonstrations and lessen their impact and visibility. So it is important for the one who is determining the route to give justifiable reasons.”
In Mzuzu, the city council has also granted the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets permission to conduct a clean-up exercise of the markets and bus depot today.
Yesterday, Mzuzu City Council (MCC) wrote the HRDC that their planned demonstrations have coincided with important national events such as the Population and Housing Census (PHC) and the death of former University of Malawi vice-chancellor Professor David Rubadiri.
Reads the MCC communication: “Furthermore, the city is mourning one of the celebrated and respected scholars whose burial will take place on Saturday 22 September 2018.
“In view of the above, we advise that should you decide to still
proceed with the demonstrations, you will have to take caution of our advice. Finally, take note that you shall be responsible for any damage to property or loss of life arising due to the demonstrations.”
We have also seen a copy of a letter dated September 20 2018 from a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Mzuzu led by Amos Tchuma, Mervin Nxumayo and Mcdonald Vinkhumo asking MCC not to allow the demonstrations.
The three asked MCC to liaise with the HRDC to cancel the
demonstrations as a way of showing respect to Rubadiri whose burial will take place tomorrow.
But HRDC Northern Region chairperson Happy Mhango said while the census is an important event and part of fulfilment of people’s rights, it does not override the importance of the demonstrations which is also a human right.
On Rubadiri, he said: “..it is our considered opinion that a one-off event taking place between 9am and 12 pm (3 hours) and a day before burial may not have serious bearing on funeral arrangements.”
DPP regional governor (North) Kenneth Sanga confirmed about the youth cadets’ exercise, saying they wrote MCC three weeks ago about their activity and were allowed to proceed.
He said: “I don’t see any possibility of clashing with the CSOs because we have different locations of activities. They will be on the road while we will be cleaning the markets.”
MCC chief executive officer McLoud Kadammanja was reportedly not in office while Godwin Pondelani, who is sitting in for him, said he was in a meeting immediately the topic was introduced to him.
The developments in Mzuzu are a repeat of what happened earlier this month when Blantyre City Council gave DPP permission to hold what it called Blue Day on September 7 2018, the same day the HRDC planned to hold anti-government protests.
This forced the HRDC to shift the protests to today to avoid clashes with the cadets.
On July 19 2011, a day before the protests, DPP cadets drove around Blantyre wielding pangas while threatening to deal with those that wanted to take part in the protests.
Again, on April 26 this year, the cadets also paraded in Blantyre, inconveniencing motorists and pedestrians along the way as they chanted that they would not allow demonstrations to take place.
In Blantyre and Zomba, the city councils have allowed the HRDC to proceed with the protests without such hurdles as in Lilongwe and Mzuzu, but have stressed that the HRDC will be responsible for any damages the protests may cause.
Representatives of the HRDC on Wednesday made a last-minute withdrawal from their planned dialogue with a government team, accusing authorities of attempting to derail today’s nationwide protests.
The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) described the HRDC’s action as unfortunate but said government will leave its door open for dialogue with them on outstanding issues from its July 2018 response to an earlier petition presented on April 27 2018.
The Police Act (2010) stipulates under Section 96 (1) that the convener of any demonstration or assembly should give notice, in writing, not less than 48 hours and not more than 14 days to the district commissioner, copied to police officer in charge. n