We, at Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep), have learnt with great disturbance the recent revelations that ‘Police officers and some Blantyre City Council officials on 21 October 2014 beat up and detained a Times Group journalist Archibald Kasakura simply for taking pictures during the street vendors’ cleanup operation – an exercise which was also characterised by assault levelled on innocent citizens. Granted, we at CHRR and Cedep dearly subscribe to the relocation of vendors to their designated market places, as one way of maintaining order and hygiene in our streets.
However, that does not necessarily imply citizens ought to be subjected to various forms of human rights violations such as assault and seizure of their merchandise. It is within the professional code of conduct of the Blantyre City Council and the Police to execute such operations without trumping on the citizens’ basic rights. That’s our bottom line.
More disheartening is the Police and city council’s officials’ deliberate attempts to conceal evidence of the ugly side of the sweeping exercise through subjecting a journalist to brutality just to prevent him from taking pictures which would expose the human rights violations like the one showing Blantyre city council officials beating women during the exercise. It sounds even more of a professional decay for the Police and city authorities to extend such measure brutality to journalists whose only crime, if crime, is to inform the general public of some forms of human rights violations associated with the clean-up exercise. This unprofessional misconduct potentially frightens away the media from the executing their job professionally. Such primitive and barbaric conduct by the Police and Blantyre City Council officials have no space in the current democratic dispensation which embraces human rights for all including freedom of expression and that of the press.
With the recent experience, one tends to wonder as to whether our police service let alone government officials have genuinely reformed through learning from their past mistakes. It still seems to be a case of ‘the more things change the more they remain the same”. Instead of stifling the smooth operations of the media in the country, our so-called “reformed” Malawi Police service must rise up and respect and protect fundamental rights and freedoms including press freedom by amongst other things desisting from any steps that would worsen their already battered image.
We at CHRR and Cedep therefore implore the Malawi Police service to seriously and promptly track down all those political officers and Blantyre City councils who were involved in this brutality which left both the journalist and the woman wounded in the process. Swift investigations must be ensued in the saga, and the victims must be compensated accordingly.
We also expect the Malawi Police Service to come up with a statement of (re)assurance to the media community of Malawi Police Service’s commitment to protection and respect of press freedom as enshrined in both domestic and international human rights legal frameworks. Otherwise, press freedom is at stake in the country, if the recent events are anything to go by, as some journalists henceforth may not freely exercise their duties in such volatile environment, a scenario if not promptly addressed which may be detrimental towards the promotion of our nascent democracy which heavily relies on a free, credible media. It’s high time the Malawi Police Service came out of its cocoon, and address this once and for all.
Timothy Mtambo Gift Trapence
Executive Director CHRR Executive Director CEDEP
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Cell: 0992166191 Cells: 0991573514
Issued in Lilongwe, Malawi on Monday, 22nd October, 2014