The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)has told Inspector General (IG) of Police Rodney Jose that police have no right to comment or give direction on the future of the ongoing nationwide demonstrations.
HRDC has been organising protests to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign.
However, Jose last week wrote HRDC, demanding that it stops convening the protests following violent and criminal acts during the demonstrations.
In a response, HRDC in its letter dated July 30 2019, it argues that it is unconstitutional and a typical case of abuse of power for the IG to stop Malawians from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful and unarmed demonstrations.
Signed by the group’s chairperson Timothy Mtambo and his vice-chairperson Gift Trapence, HRDC argues that sections 92-111 of Police Act provides that all demonstrations are localised under laws of Malawi and, as such, any comment on a demonstration has to be for a particular localised demonstration.
“In fact, the Police Act does not give powers to the Inspector General of Police, let alone the district specific officer-in-charge of police, to respond to a written notification of a demonstration by organisers of such.
“Such powers are exclusively vested in the district commissioners [DC] or chief executive officer [CEO]. An officer-in-charge of Malawi Police Service [MPS] is only kept in the loop [or made aware of] about a particular mentioned localised demonstration, and can be merely consulted by the DC or CEO on matters of security where a particular demonstration is taking place based on a written notification,” it reads in part.
HRDC also argues that the Police Act recognises a police officer in the locality at the rank of Inspector and above to advise conveners of demonstrations on relevant matters of security, as such, they feel Jose is ill-advised on this matter.
In a letter to Mtambo dated July 26 2019, Jose said the decision to stop the protests followed the unruly conduct of protesters.
It reads: “As you are aware, police officers have been attacked during
these demonstrations making it extremely difficult for them to provide security to persons and property. Sadly, the situation is deteriorating with each new demonstration that HRDC convenes.”
Section 105 of the Police Act (2010) provides grounds for a police officer to notify conveners of demonstrations if the police will not be able to provide security for the protests.
It reads: “(1) Where an assembly or a demonstration is to take place in compliance with the provisions of this Part, a police officer—
“(a) if he has reasonable grounds to believe that the police will not be able to provide adequate protection for the persons participating in such an assembly or a demonstration, may notify the convener and such persons accordingly and shall give them the grounds in writing.”
HRDC has so far organised five nationwide protests to force MEC chairperson Ansah to resign for allegedly mismanaging the May 21 Tripartite Elections.