Dozens arrested in anti-‘selective justice’ protests
Police in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, have arrested 75 people including human rights campaigners during a clampdown on protests against “selective justice” by the country’s judiciary.
The arrests followed a last-minute High Court injunction that attempted to ban the demonstrations.
Police spokesperson, Hastings Chigalu, confirmed the arrests on Wednesday, saying they were due to “lawlessness” and that people were looting and breaking into shops, smashing vehicles and blocking roads.
One of the protest leaders, Kingsley Mpaso, of Lilongwe-based civil rights group Human Rights Ambassadors, told the media his group was unfazed by the arrests and that protesters would fight on until justice prevailed.
The activists were demonstrating against what they called selective justice by the Southern African country’s judiciary in recent months. They cited the case of a teenager, Mussa John — who was given an eight-year jail sentence by a Magistrates’ court for being found with cannabis. However, a prominent business executive reportedly found cultivating the plant in his compound was only given a fine by the courts.
This led to outrage as social media users pointed out the discrepancies in the rulings, causing protests and a high court review of John’s case.
As the heavily armed police tried to stop the hundreds of protesters gathered, the activists went on a vandalism spree, authorities said. Witnesses say the police sprayed tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Other grievances of the activists included a string of pending court cases including one involving Norman Chisale, a former bodyguard to former President, Peter Mutharika, who has been accused of corruption after being unable to account for his enormous wealth.
Protesters were also angry over a delay in the prosecution of former Lands Minister, Kezzie Msukwa, who has been linked to kickbacks for contracts worth more than $150m. Although President Lazarus Chakwera has suspended some top officials implicated in the scandal, the demonstrators demanded speedy public trials.
The protests went ahead despite a court injunction by a group of so-called “concerned citizens” just hours earlier to stop them. Authorities also reportedly demanded a list of names of people to act as guarantors that the demonstrations would be peaceful. -Aljazeera