Center for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) executive director, Sylvester Namiwa, and ten others were on Friday, August 13, 2021 granted bail by the Nkukula Magistrate Court in the central region district of Dowa after they were arrested on Tuesday for “illegal assembly.”
Police picked Namiwa outside Parliament Building where his organisation was holding vigils to force Parliament leadership to explain how a Loan Authorisation Bill of K93 billion found itself on the Order Paper—an outline of issues to be discussed in Parliament—without the approval and knowledge of key stakeholders, including Cabinet.
Uniformed police and some in civilian attire, “manhandled” Namiwa before “bundling” him into a vehicle, while in the process they dispersed protestors.
Among other bail conditions, the court directed that all the accused persons pay a K20, 000 cash bond and produce one reliable and traceable surety bonded at K50, 000 non-cash each.
In addition, the court has directed that the accused persons should be reporting to Area 30 National Police Headquarters every fortnight on Thursdays.
Despite ruling that the offence is a misdemeanor, the court has directed the accused not to engage in any demonstration.
Another condition is that they should not hold any demonstrations until the case comes to its conclusion.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge of holding vigil against written refusal by Lilongwe City Council on August 9, 2021.
Representative of the state, Levison Mangani, said they would proceed with the parading of witnesses.
He asked the court to adjourn the case to the next seven days for the trial to commence.
Charles Mhango, lawyer representing Namiwa and the others, did not object saying they also needed to look into the disclosures.
“The state had already assured the defense not to object bail,” Mhango said.
On Thursday, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) refuted reports that had made rounds that Namiwa had been “heavily assaulted and harmed.”
National police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, told Nyasa Times that the social media reports were “false” and that the rights activist and others arrested together with him were fine.
“That is a total lie. Namiwa is in good health,” Kadadzera said, adding that they would be taken to court within 48 hours as required by the law.
Namiwa had, on Tuesday, proceeded with a planned vigil at the Parliament Building despite Lilongwe City Council not granting him permission citing security as the country is hosting the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Summit and the worsening Covid-19 situation.
The police said Namiwa contravened Section 108 of Police Act by disregarding Lilongwe City Council’s decision not to grant him permission.
Kadadzera said “Namiwa’s notice was not approved by the city council and it was wrong for him to proceed with the vigils because he broke the law; hence, his arrest.”
But a governance expert, Rafiq Hajat, queried the police action, arguing that the Constitution is clear on the right of assembly for citizens in the country.
He said insisting that demonstrators should first get permission before going on the streets is undemocratic and a violation of people’s rights.
“As CSOs, we have run into such challenges with the police, especially when demonstrating on very sensitive issues. The July 20 demonstrations in 2011 are a good example. The police stopped us from marching until we got a court injunction.
“This just goes to show that there is a challenge before us and this issue needs to be cleared to avoid further confrontations between protesters and police in future,” Hajat is quoted as saying in the local press.
On his part, Human Right Defenders Coalition (HRDC) national chairperson Gift Trapence called for the unconditional release of the activist.
“One doesn’t need to beg to hold demonstrations. Actually, HRDC went to court on this matter and we went as far as the Supreme Court. We demand his release,” he said.
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