Malawi arrests three suspects over violent anti-government protests

By Ayanda Mdluli Time of article published Mar 11, 2020

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Blantyre - High ranking police officials in Malawi have arrested leaders of violent anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the nation since its disputed general elections last year.

Independent Media understands, from senior law enforcement sources that three men have been apprehended and are due to appear in court.
The names of the suspects are known to Independent Media and will be revealed once they have appeared in court.  

Acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa confirmed the arrests, citing “inciting violence” as the reason for the arrest.

“The warrant of arrest was given by the court. The law has finally caught up with an extremist group that camouflages itself as a human rights organization, calling itself Human Rights Defenders while it is, in reality, a front for political parties of violence led by Mr Saulos Chilima and Mr Lazarus Chakwera. The campaign of violence organization by this group, which local broadcasters have called ‘terrorists’ led to a murder of a police officer on duty on 8 October 2019,” he said.

Mwapasa said the arrested persons have been waging a campaign of violence for the past eight months but Government exercised extremely unprepared restraint and patience.

“Many Malawians say the ulterior motive of the organization has been to terrorize and destabilise the country in order to destabilise (the) government,” he said.

He added that the arrests were prompted by the announcement by the leaders of what is touted as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition to invade and “shut down State Houses” on March 25.

“This announcement has been interpreted as testing waters for a coup. They say the move is intended to force President Peter Mutharika to sign some bills which Parliament passed. However, the bills have also been described as “illegal laws” and “unconstitutional laws” because they are in direct contradiction with the Constitution of Malawi,” said Mwapasa.

Political insiders in Malawi, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal amid political volatility, said the country’s Parliament failed to change the Constitution to accommodate the bill's inconsistency with the rest of the laws of the country.  

Since the general elections in May last year, the HRDC is alleged to have been organizing a campaign of violence, protesting the outcome of the election.

On February 3, the court nullified the May 2019 Election in a court judgement that has created what high ranking political sources refer to as a constitutional crisis because the court went out of its jurisdiction in making political pronouncements that are unconstitutional.

A senior government source explained: “The court ruled for fresh election saying the previous election was marred by irregularities. However, the court did not find that Mutharika won the election fraudulently. Nor that the irregularities affected any of the presidential election result(s). The judgement has been described as “a subversion of justice and attack on democracy” by Mutharika, a seasoned law professor himself. Many well-informed commentators have variously said the judgement is a “judicial travesty” and a “judicial coup” that runs counter to basic principles of jurisprudence,” he said.

Independent Media has been able to establish that both Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission have appealed to the country’s Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn the lower court judgement.

His team argued that the decision by the court to nullify what is Mutharika's legitimately earned victory has caused protests with the public and political and legal experts in Malawi and around the world. 

According to information from the office of the inspector general in Malawi, the unprecedented wave of the post-election violence by HRDC and the opposition have led to extensive damage of businesses, government and private offices and beating of people. 

“At the height of the violence, 34 individual business people who had their shops damaged and looted filed a court petition demanding compensation of over K500 million from HRDC,” said the inspector general.

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