LILONGWE (Malawi NewsNow) –Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has vehemently faulted unprofessional conduct of Malawi Police service for seriously arresting Malawi Congress Party (MCP) officials without substantial evidence and raping the constitution of detaining lawmakers when parliament is in session.
The state –funded human rights watchdog, MHRC has joined similar observation Malawi Law Society (MLS) that the willy-nilly of arresting people on sedition or treasons charges was undermining the gravity of these offenses which are criminal in nature that persons who committee them could not granted bail just within hours upon their arrests.
Since Sunday this week, the police have been arresting MCP officials including Ulemu Msungama (who is challenging the disputed 2014 election results for Lilongwe City South East Constituency), Jessie Kabwira (Lawmaker for Salima North West) and Peter Chankhwantha (legislator for Lilongwe Rural South West) over WhatsApp conversation and have been charged with sedition and treason.
MHRC Chairperson, Mr Justice Dzonzi said in a statement that there is the need for police to conduct their duties in accordance with the law not political influences saying such conduct diminish the trust people have on them as custodians of law and order.
The human rights body observed that the conduct of the police violated the law of the land section 153 which gives the powers to protect public safety and rights of all Malawians in accordance with the Constitution and any other law and apprehend and for whose apprehension sufficient grounds exist.
“Section 15 of the Police Act, (Chapter 13:01 of the Laws of Malawi), gives powers to police officers to apprehend all persons whom he or she is legally authorized to apprehend and for whose apprehension sufficient grounds exist.
“Section 42 of the Constitution provides for the rights of persons suspected of or accused of the commission of an offence including: the right to be informed of the reason of his or her detention in the language he or she understands; the right to be given all rights to consult confidentially with a legal practitioner of his or her choice; the right to have the opportunity and means to communicate with his or her spouse and medical practitioner; and the right to be subjected a fair trial including the right to be tried by an independent and impartial court of law within a reasonable time after being charged.
“In particular, the pertinent provision relating to these arrests is section 60 of the Constitution that accords Members of Parliament immunity from arrest while going to, returning from or while in the precincts of the National Assembly. Information provided to the Commission show that it is not clear if Honorable Kabwila will be charged with treason or sedition. However if it is the latter, the actions of the police will be tantamount to a breach of section 60 of the Constitution, and therefore unlawful and irregular”, reads in part the MHRC statement.
While the Commission keeps getting conflicting versions of the events from the concerned authorities as well as the parties involved, on the exact status of the issues, MHRC noted that the developments raise a number of critical legal and human rights issues worth due consideration including the role of the police, the offense of treason and sedition, immunity of Member of Parliament (MP) and the right to privacy and the fundamental freedom of expression.
“Fundamentally, the Commission would like to point out that the manner and the timing of the arrests of the three politicians raise serious issues with respect to the openness of the human rights space in Malawi, given previous experiences under different administrations where similar arrests have been orchestrated as a way of suppression of critics or dealing with dissent.
“Past experience shows that state agencies have been employed as instruments for dealing with what are deemed to be the critics of sitting Governments in a heavy handed manner, for example through unwarranted arrests on apparent trumped up charges, subjection of critics to undue processes at the hands of the police and various other threats either through anonymous telephone calls to public rally pronouncements isolating and demonizing selected critics.
“Complicit in these developments was the state media and some NGOs that played the role of fueling attacks against critics through broadcast of propaganda. Regrettably, this historic turn of events seem to be slowly being reincarnated with the recent developments of NGOs that have grouped together to downplay the critics of the current ruling party, as well as the consistent monitoring of the views and opinions of such NGOs by the state broadcaster in a manner that borders on propaganda. In this regard, the Commission is calling on political players from across different parties to ensure that they exercise the highest degree of tolerance of the diverse views”, concludes the MHRC statement.
Meanwhile the Malawi police have contradicted their earlier decision to charge Kabwira and Chankhwantha on sedition and treason changing statement that they will set the right charge for the two saying the arrest was just a mere warning.
Inspector General (IG) of Police Lexten Kachama told the news conference on Wednesday, February 24 in the capital Lilongwe that there is no evidence to press treason charge against MCP official contracting his spokesperson, Nicholas Gondwa that MCP officials were charged with sedition and treason.