The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has described Vice President Saulos Chilima’s apology to a journalist as half-hearted.
Chilima who is also UTM president apologised to the journalist George Banda who was attacked by UTM members at Comesa Hall in Blantyre on Wednesday when Chilima presented his nomination papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission.
In a statement signed by HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo and Vice chairperson Gift Trapence, the coalition has expressed concern with Chilima’s suggestion that the attack on Banda is regrettable because it “emanated from a case of mistaken identity”.
“We view such remarks as not only regrettable but also propagating a dangerous message that violence against all their (UTM) targets is acceptable and okay,” HRDC said.
The coalition has reminded Chilima that all forms of violence are unacceptable and must be condemned.
The group has also called on the UTM leader to name the members of UTM who attacked the journalist and to hand them over to law enforcers.
“We are concerned with the failure of UTM to take disciplinary measures against perpetrators of such violence let alone hand them over to law enforcers to ensure justice takes its course,” the coalition said.
However, HRDC in its statement commended Chilima for his humble act and remorseful gesture saying such qualities have almost been absent in leaders who have often greeted their party members’ attacks on critics with executive arrogance.
In his letter to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi, Chilima apologised for the attack on the journalist saying he was disgusted and shocked.
“This letter also serves to reiterate my personal commitment and that of UTM to ensuring that the media operates freely and without hindrance in this country in line with the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and indeed freedom of expression. UTM is founded on the principles of peace and tolerance. As such this incident is regrettable,” Chilima said.
He added that his aides contacted Banda who told them that he lost money and his phone during the incident.
In response, MISA Malawi expressed gratitude for the remorse that Chilima and his party have shown.
In a statement, MISA Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga said her organisation will be following up to ensure Banda is duly compensated for his losses.
“We would also like to urge UTM and all political parties to ensure that such incidents never happen again. We expect political leaders to also have internal disciplinary systems that would ensure no violence takes place during the entire political cycle.
“MISA Malawi is also urging the police to remain vigilant in the prevention of attacks against journalists. It is our hope that those who attacked Banda and other journalists in the past, will face the law,” Ndanga said.
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