Legal and rights activists have faulted the Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service, Rodney Jose, for ordering the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) to stop convening demonstrations in the country.
In a letter to HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo dated July 26 2019, Jose said the decision follows violent and criminal acts that have characterised recent protests.
HRDC has been convening protests aimed at forcing the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah.
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.
“It is thus evident that your organisation is no longer able to convene peaceful demonstrations. On our part, we are unable to provide adequate protection for the people participating in these demonstrations and those affected by the same due to, among others, the hostile attitude of demonstrators towards police officers and criminal elements that have hijacked the said demonstrations.”
Jose then ordered HRDC to stop convening the protests until a later date.
“In view of the above, the Malawi Police Service, in exercise of its powers under Section 105 (1) of the Police Act, demands that HRDC should forthwith stop convening demonstrations until such a time when it would be possible to convene and hold peaceful demonstrations. You are also required to convey this demand to members of HRDC at all levels.”
Section 105 of the Police Act (2010) provides grounds for a police officer to notify conveners of demonstrations if the police will the protests. not be able to provide security for
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.”
But Mtambo on Saturday said they will not be stopped from exercising the right to protest because of the “ineffectiveness” of the police.
“We have had several demonstrations in this country, and I have never heard a police IG saying they have failed to provide security so the protests have to stop, never! Jose is simply confirming that he is incompetent and, therefore, must pave the way for others who can do the job.
“We will be responding to him shortly, but one thing Malawians need to know is that Jose will not stop us from exercising our rights,” he said.
Governance and policy expert, Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction also faulted Jose, saying, his decision is tantamount to the State abrogating its responsibility.
“The State has responsibility to provide security and maintain law and order. For the police to say we are overwhelmed so we can’t cope, basically is a sign of surrender and the State is saying their people cannot go about exercising their rights because it is unable to maintain law and order.
“I think it’s a wrong approach. I would recommend that the IG gets together with HRDC and arrange a joint set-up. For example, when we had demonstrations in 2011, we appointed 200 marshals and had orders that if anyone steps out of line or vandalises a shop or anything, that person must be arrested,” he suggested.
On his part, security studies lecturer at Mzuzu University, Euginio Njoloma said the IG’s decision shows that the police is overwhelmed.
“The number of people coming out to demonstrate is too huge, the police can’t manage [to handle them]. We have seen before that the use of tear gas also worsens the situation and if this continues, I am afraid that the police could start using excessive force.
“But while we look at all this, the situation would easily be saved if the demands of the protesters are met, and those in power must seriously think about this,” advised Njoloma.
MEC declared President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) winner of the presidential race in the May 21 Tripartite Elections with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent.