The High Court in Lilongwe last evening rebuffed an application from the Attorney General (AG) to stop nationwide demonstrations organised by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).
But the court has given HRDC the go-ahead to march to within 100 meters of Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, as provided in Section 103 of the Police Act.
The court’s order overturns an earlier decision by Lilongwe City Council denying the civil society organisations (CSOs) permission to march to Kamuzu Palace and other State Residences.
In an interview last evening, lawyer representing HRDC William Chiwaya said the AG’s office made an application to have demonstrations stopped nationwide. He said High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire denied the application and, instead, ordered that the matter should come through an interpartes hearing.
Earlier yesterday, HRDC vowed to proceed with the demonstrations even after the council refused them permission. Today’s demonstrations will take place at a time when the Constitutional Court hearing the presidential elections petition will be making a ruling on Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) application seeking an extension of the period for soliciting sworn affidavits.
On Tuesday this week, LCC wrote the HRDC informing them that they could not be allowed to hold demonstrations in the city and present the petition to President Peter Mutharika at Kamuzu Palace because the law forbids holding demonstrations at State Residences.
Through a letter signed by HRDC national chairperson Timothy Mtambo and vice-chairperson Gift Trapence to LCC chief executive officer John Chome, HRDC said today’s demonstrations would take place pursuant to Section 38 of the Constitution as well as Section 103 of the Police Act which bars the public from holding demonstrations within 100 metres of State Residences.
The letter reads in part: “Take note that we have resolved to proceed with the planned demonstrations scheduled for the 25 July 2019 at Kamuzu Palace albeit your position not to grant us permission as stated in your letter.”
During the briefing, Mtambo said besides protesting to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly presiding over a fraudulent electoral process in the May 21 Tripartite Elections, HRDC will engage other gears to ensure she resigns.
He said they will write the chairperson of Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) to consider removing Ansah from the position in line with Section 75 of the Constitution which gives the committees powers to appoint and remove officers in and from positions they are confirmed on.
They said they will present the petition to the President or his representative at a distance of 100 metres away from Kamuzu Palace.
According to the leaders, the same will happen in all State Residences and where there is none, the petition will be presented to the district commissioner.
In an interview, one of the HRDC members Solomon Ndalama Phiri said demonstrators will not be allowed to go beyond 100 metres as required by the law.
As HRDC was holding its briefing yesterday, a civil society dubbed The Concerned Citizens also held press briefing at Crown Lodge in Lilongwe where its chairperson Phillip Kamangira threatened to disclose financiers of the demonstrations.
He said Malawians cannot manage to see property being damaged and school children being traumatised because of demonstrations; hence, his call for dialogue.
On March 6 this year, the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) in conjunction with HRDC also wanted to hold vigils at State House, but police blocked them when they were about one and a half kilometres away from Kamuzu Palace gate.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera at the time said that police did not allow them to proceed with the march because the State House is a protected place.