Published: July 23rd 2011July 21st 2011
Well, it’s morning, and I highly doubt that happened. Someone from a’mai’s organization was sent to find Isaac, but we don’t think he made it, as things have started up again. As Dave put it via text, “We don’t know if he made it because it got rough downtown again.” A colleague came into my office about 30 minutes ago saying we had to get out of here. She hadn’t talked to the boss yet, but her brother called to say that the police were shooting at people walking to their shops downtown, which has caused a lot of anger, so protesters are heading toward City Center (where government buildings are). Our office is in a residential neighborhood next to City Center. He says it’s getting bad out there.
Dave and the others are heading out to village to meet A’mai, who left early this morning to meet with UN delegates on another matter. He said they keep encountering informal roadblocks.
Everyone here (at the Center for Legal Assistance) is buzzing about yesterday’s events. There were fires and disturbances all across the country. Mzuzu (in the north) was the worst. Blantyre (south) was fine during the morning and early afternoon, with police acting professionally, but once the injunction was vacated around 3pm, hell broke loose there as well.
In other words, everything’s a mess. It also means that Isaac will most certainly not see a courtroom today. Others in our group comforted themselves with the knowledge that at least he wasn’t alone, but I think this makes this worse for him. He’s been thrown in with people who were protesting and who were lighting stores on fire and doing who knows what else. Any number of things could have happened last night, and a police officer would not distinguish him from anyone else if he decided to act out against the detainees. Not to mention, those cells are a NIGHTMARE on a regular day. I can’t imagine what they’re like today.
Before writing this, I spent the morning doing legal research using the penal code and Constitution. The one cop claimed they’d charge Isaac with “obstructing a police officer,” but that is nowhere to be found as a violation. I think I’ve created a pretty good defense, particularly since the law behind the charge doesn’t exist, and in the process, I have built up plenty of support to lodge a formal complaint. I’ve counted 6 constitutional violations, and I’m not even including subsections in that count.
According to the law, police must bring you for a hearing within 48 hours of arrest. Getting that enforced is difficult enough under normal circumstances. While I doubt Isaac will see court today or even tomorrow, my main concern is getting him food and something warm. I’m sure the sheer number of people held in the cells will help with warmth, but it’s winter here and at night, the temperature drops close to freezing. The holding cell has an open space between the top of the wall and the ceiling (which helped us to hear the screams and cheers), which means that plenty of cold air will get in.
Malawi is about 86% Christian, and a belief in pre-destination runs strong. Beyond enormous concern for Isaac and others who have been unlawfully detained, the response seems to be, “This was his time.” Everything we witnessed is just what happens here, and just about everyone experiences it in some form or another.
I’m obviously very sorry that Isaac was arrested and detained, and that A’mai has been put in a tough position, but I’m not sorry that I was there to witness it all. Call it a sense of responsibility that I can now share what I observed, since the Africa page on the BBC’s website appears to be the only international media source reporting the current chaos and disaster. Oh, and eNews (out of South Africa), which this morning ran along the ticker at the bottom of the screen: Violence erupts after Malawi protests. Wow, very thorough reporting. I would hope they had an actual feature later on, but I doubt it. Journalists are among those being beaten, along with civil society leaders. I’ll provide more information on that and an update a little later. As of yesterday afternoon, the radio was banned from providing live updates, so news is only circulating through texts, word of mouth, and Facebook pages. Check out the Malawi Voice’s page if you have a chance.