State-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) on Monday asked government to desist from preventing people from participating in the planned January 17 nationwide consumers’ demonstrations to protest a harsh economic environment.
In a statement, MHRC said government should instead ensure that Malawians’ right to express their concerns is respected and protected.
MHRC chairperson Sophie Kalinde urged all parties involved in the demonstrations, including the organisers, police, media and government, to play their rightful roles to ensure that the demonstrations do not replicate the disastrous consequences of July 20 2011 anti-government demonstrations.
She said: “The commission calls upon government, in particular its relevant agencies, to ensure that the organisers of the demonstrations are not unlawfully prevented or prohibited from holding such demonstrations provided the planned demonstrations have followed procedures prescribed by law.”
Kalinde said the right to assemble and hold demonstrations peacefully and unarmed is a human right and fundamental freedom protected under the Constitution. She also said protection from undue interference is one of the tenets of such a right.
She said, therefore, any attempts to thwart such peaceful demonstrations and also statements and moves aimed at dissuading would-be demonstrators from participation undermine such rights.
In its statement, MHRC also said the current calls for dialogue, though important, valid and ought to be given consideration, they should not be a guise for imposition of restriction for people to hold the demonstrations.
Malawi Police Service (MPS) national spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said the police were already working hand in hand with the organisers as well as district commissioners to ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful and lawful.
Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito, whose organisation is championing the demonstrations, said in an interview the organisers have actively engaged the police to ensure peaceful demonstrations.
Among other things, the consumers’ grievances include a demand for a reversal of the floatation of the kwacha; sale of the presidential jet and Mercedes Benz vehicles for ministers; reduction in the presidential convoy, minimising presidential and ministerial travels both local and international, the bloated cabinet; checking corruption and the declaration of assets by the President.