The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi) has reiterated its call for the repeal of laws inconsistent with the country’s democratic dispensation.
The call follows media reports that a 19-year-old Information and Communications Technology (ICT) student at Daeyang Luke University in Lilongwe, Patrick Semu, was arrested by the Malawi Police and spent 36 hours behind bars after allegedly criticizing the state President.
In September last year, a 60-year-old Alinafe Paulo of Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka was convicted and fined MK3,000 or serve three months imprisonment with hard labor for insulting the President.
It a press statement, Misa Malawi Chairperson Thom Khanje says offenses such as those of “Conduct Likely to Cause Breach of Peace”, which was used in both cases is a broad and archaic law which is often abused by law enforcers.
“It is one of the out-of-date and unconstitutional laws which Malawi has maintained after inheriting them from colonial masters. Other laws in that category include the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act, the Official Secrets Act (1913); the Printed Publications Act (1947) and the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act (1968), among others,” reads part of the statement.
He said it his high time Malawi repealed these statutes to get rid of laws that are not in line with our democratic dispensation saying applying laws enacted during the colonial period, 50 years after independence, is retrogressive and a threat to the country’s hard won democracy.
MISA-Malawi has since expressed disappointment over the growing intolerance of free speech in the country and has called upon President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to distance his administration from developments that are tarnishing the image of his government.
Khanje said Section 35 provides that ‘Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ And criticising the president falls within the framework of this provision and should never warrant an arrest.
“Criticising those in power is healthy for a democracy and government is constitutionally obliged to tolerate and respect citizen views and opinions. This is also critical in building a healthy and vibrant society.
As MISA-Malawi we find the conduct of the Police in arresting and charging people for insulting the President retrogressive and a threat to democracy,” reads part of the statement.
Misa Malawi has a number of times condemned the Mutharika government for among others failing to respect freedom of expression either by the media or the general public.