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Last updated on 28.05.2021 at 16:44

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Targeted Police Brutality Against Sex Workers’ Protest Actions

Targeted Police Brutality Against Sex Workers’ Protest Actions

Since the beginning of 2021, the Female Sex Workers’ Association (FSWA) have organised a series of protests in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe to demonstrate against what they described as “targeted police brutality” following new COVID-19 restrictions by police pushing them out of pubs in an effort to uphold the new regulations. As previously reported on the Monitor, the protests were as a result of the discontent of sex workers with the COVID-19 regulations which result in them having a limited source of income. The challenges which the sex workers are experiencing have been aggravated by restaurants and clubs being closed at 8pm which is the time that they are arguing is the time that they begin to have more clients. Considering that FSWA has approximately 120 000 members – this means a large number of sex workers are impacted by the new regulations.

Peaceful Assembly

Sex workers protest against new regulations

Since the beginning of 2021, the Female Sex Workers’ Association (FSWA) have organised a series of protests in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe to demonstrate against what they described as “targeted police brutality” following new COVID-19 restrictions by police pushing them out of pubs in an effort to uphold the new regulations. As previously reported on the Monitor, the protests were as a result of the discontent of sex workers with the COVID-19 regulations which result in them having a limited source of income. The challenges which the sex workers are experiencing have been aggravated by restaurants and clubs being closed at 8pm which is the time that they are arguing is the time that they begin to have more clients. Considering that FSWA has approximately 120 000 members – this means a large number of sex workers are impacted by the new regulations.

Despite President Chakwera outlining that “Citizens found to be in violation of public safety laws must be subjected to due process, not police brutality or beatings. Malawi is not a police state, for what we have in the country is a police service not force,” police have been subjecting sex workers to brutal treatment. Recently, a sex worker called Yvonne was interviewed regarding the issues surrounding the protests and the challenges experienced by the commercial sex workers in Lilongwe. She explicitly highlighted that police raids had become a new norm and that the regulations on COVID-19 are violating the sex workers’ right to life and they have no other option except to continue protesting against the government restrictions.

“Because of the new COVID-19 laws, police have taken advantage of the law by coming and knocking in our rooms and beating us. We haven’t heard of a case where they went to married people’s homes to knock at their doors and beat them but because they know that we are found in the rooms they are coming there… Some of our members have sustained wounds” – FSWA National Coordinator, Zinenani Majawa

The sex workers are conducting a series of protests petitioning for the curfew to be pushed to midnight so that they can be able to make some extra money. They usually carry pamphlets and sing revolutionary songs in the streets of Lilongwe , also indicating that sex work is normal and it should not be illegal. The police are dominantly monitoring the protests holding their firearms and wearing helmets but they have not publicly interrupted the protests since they were peaceful. There has been a response from the executive, Ms Martha Kaukonde who is working at the Malawi Law Society, who highlighted that the restrictions were justified in the context of the pandemic to curb the spread of the virus. Human rights activist Madalitso Banda also commented on the current situation, submitting that sacrifices should be made to open bars and restaurants because despite the fact that there is a global pandemic everyone still needs to survive.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests are common in Malawi and large numbers of citizens have taken to the streets on a range of issues, including to speak out against corruption and calling for a more equitable distribution of resources.

Protests are common in Malawi and large numbers of citizens have taken to the streets on a range of issues, including to speak out against corruption and calling for a more equitable distribution of resources. Although there is no specific legislation that governs the organisation of demonstrations, the Police Act 2009 requires protest organisers to provide authorities with 48 hours’ notice. The Act requires authorisation for demonstrations within the precincts of Parliament, a State Residence, or a court. In practice, police forces have used excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse protestors. In 2014 for example, the police shot and killed one demonstrator who was calling for a recount of votes in the presidential elections.

Expression

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed in Malawi.

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed in Malawi. However, this right is limited by other laws, including the Protected Flag, Emblems, and Names Act which prescribes prison terms for insulting the president and various national symbols. Defamation remains a criminal offense in Malawi. Violence and harassment against journalists were common under the administration of President Bingu wa Mutharika, but has decreased under subsequent governments. The Access to Information (ATI) Law was finally approved by Malawi’s Parliament in December 2016, and signed by the President in February 2017, after many years of civil society advocacy. There are no major restrictions on the internet; however, accessibility remains limited for many due to high costs.