Civilians Outnumber Lawyers in Lawyers' Protest
Malawian lawyers, civil rights activists, politicians and other stakeholders have taken to the street in a ‘hands-off-the-judiciary’ demonstration against the executive arm of government meddling in the operational and administrative affairs of the justice delivery system. But it turned out that solidarity numbers were more.
The lawyers and stakeholders are on the street in Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu in an unprecedented street-march by judicial officers. This has been the climax of public display of annoyance following a whirlwind of local and international official condemnation.
“It is sad it has had to get to this. Ordinarily, it should have been obvious that the three arms of government operate independent of each other,” said one lawyer in Lilongwe.
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition-HRDC-has joined the demonstrations in solidarity with the aggrieved lawyers. HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence told us earlier:
“Our judiciary is the defender of constitutionalism and the rule of law. Any assault on our judiciary is an assault on the democracy that citizens gallantly fought for.
“Stifling security of tenure of office of judges is, therefore, not only unreasonable and animal-like but also a threat to constitutionalism and democracy. The executive branch of government may play political games with Parliament but we must not allow that to happen with the judiciary,” said Trapence.
The HRDC says the demonstration is “a justified and peaceful demonstration of dismay at the conduct of the Peter Mutharika administration” for his attempts to change the existing structure of the leadership in the justice delivery system for his personal political interests.
The demonstrations follow a decision by President Mutharika to send on leave pending retirement Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda, and Supreme Court judge Edward Twea, in what the public viewed as an attempt to get judge Jane Ansah to be the head of the judiciary.
Among those infuriated by the decision are lawyers who have organized country-wide demonstrations against what they describe as executive invasion of the independence of the judicially.
One of the organizers Khwima Mchizi told Zodiak Online that the demonstrations are aimed at forcing the executive arm of government to respect the independence of the judiciary.
He observed that since the courts nullified the 2019 presidential election, the executive has launched continuous attacks on the judiciary alleging it has taken the path of a “judicial coup”.
But in a statement issued on Monday, government insists that there was nothing strange about the decision in the statement by Chief Secretary Lloyd Muhara as there is precedence to it.
In the statement signed for by Information minister Mark Bottoman, government says Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda has accumulated 572 leave days hence should proceed on leave pending his retirement as he will also have reached retirement age of 65.
“This speaks of his dedication to work, that he could forgo his leave days in order to serve Malawi. This is typical of almost all former occupants in the office of Chief Justice,” reads part of the statement.
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