Representatives from the office of the Attorney General (AG) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) are set to meet for talks this Friday to discuss ways to ensure that the ongoing anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations are peaceful.
The meeting follows a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal order on Tuesday evening that the two parties must, within 14 days, hold negotiations to on how HRDC can exercise the constitutional right to demonstrate without violence and crime.
Section 38 of the Republican Constitution guarantees that every person shall have the right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala in an interview on Wednesday confirmed the meeting is set for Friday.
He said: “The meeting will be on 30th August at the Civic Offices in Lilongwe from 10am. The office of the Attorney General will facilitate the meeting with HRDC and other stakeholders such as the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force [MDF].”
This is the third attempt to organise the meeting which has failed to take place twice, first on August 15 when there was a petrol bomb incident at HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo’s house in Lilongwe in the wee hours of the scheduled day of the meeting.
The second meeting, which was scheduled on August 21, ended within five minutes after the HRDC asked for the withdrawal of an interlocutory application by Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) who had applied to the High Court for an injunction to restrict HRDC planned demonstrations to outside its premises at the country’s borders and airports.
Lawyers from both sides also in separate interviews confirmed tomorrow’s meeting.
One of the lawyers in the office of the AG Neverson Chisiza said they have proposed Friday for the meeting on issues surrounding the demonstrations.
“We have proposed Friday for the meeting, we are just waiting from our friends. The discussions [are] on the same issues we failed to discuss last time,” he said.
HRDC lawyer Khwima Mchizi confirmed discussing with lawyers from the AG’s office and that he had communicated to his clients about the meeting.
“We are ready to meet them on Friday, but we will wait for the official communication from them. We are certain that this time around, there will be discussions as provided by the ruling by Justice Lovemore Chikopa and we hope there will be no foul play from the AGs side. Since there are no injunctions, we believe it will be well,” he said.
In his ruling, Chikopa said time should be given within which the parties can negotiate while respecting the suspension. He also said that care should be taken so that the moratorium does not turn into a backdoor ban.
Chikopa has since said that to give negotiations the best chance of success, there is a need for both parties to ensure that senior members attend to make decisions there and then. He has also warned against prejudice during the proceedings.
He said: “The AG should especially heed the foregoing and advise those in relation to whom he is principle legal adviser to proceed with caution. On our part, we want to make it clear that we shall not hesitate to take measure including citing people for contempt, if we think that statements prejudicial to these proceedings have been made.”
Meanwhile, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo has said apart from holding the discussions, they will also be holding citizen rallies within the 14 days.
He said in an interview HRDC respects the courts and it is waiting for the meeting with the AG to discuss the peaceful protests.
“In the meantime, we want to carry out two or three citizen rallies where we will be engaging people on various issues. We engage people on how to fight corruption, how to demand good governance and the need to be peaceful during demonstrations. We encourage people to participate in the development of the country,” said Mtambo.
On Tuesday, Justice Chikopa of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that within a maximum of 14 days, HRDC is restrained from organising or convening demonstrations.
Reads the Order: “During the said time the parties hereto shall hold negotiations to determine a manner in which the respondents’ exercise of their rights in Section 38 of the Constitution can be without undue incidents of violence and crime.”
The order followed HRDC’s plan to hold three-day nationwide demonstrations after the High Court granted an injunction to MRA, Airport Development Limited and National Oil Company of Malawi, stopping the HRDC from holding five-day protests at the country’s airports and borders.
Despite the court order that suspended the 3-day demonstrations scheduled to start last Wednesday, there was heavy presence of police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers in the streets of the country’s main cities.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera on Wednesday refused to comment on why they filled the streets, saying the will come up with a press statement on how they operated on the day.
“We will issue a press statement on what has transpired today, that’s all I can say,” he said.
The HRDC, which has been holding demonstrations since the announcement of the May 21 presidential election results, wants Ansah to resign to pave the way for investigations into identifying and prosecuting those who supplied Tippex that was used to alter election figures on result sheets.
The demonstrations have in some cases been marred by looting and violence.