Political party denied registration, while court orders restrict expression

Association

On 26th September 2018, it was reported that the office of the registrar of political parties declined to register the United Transformation Movement (UTM) as a political party in Malawi. According to reports, the deputy registrar rejected UTM’s application because it was not in conformity with some sections of the Political Parties’ Act. Justifying the decision, the deputy registrar stated that the application documents submitted by UTM used the abbreviation and deliberately omitted to make reference to the full name under which the group has been holding out (United Transformation Movement).

Following the refusal for registration, on 27th September, it was reported that Blantyre City Council denied permission to UTC to hold a political rally in Nyirande township. Through a letter addressed to the chairman of the party, the City Council's chief executive officer indicated that permission had been denied because UTM was not a registered political party. Observers however said that the decision to prevent the rally could amount to an infringement of the constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of assembly.

The UTM party moved to court to challenge the decision of the deputy registrar to refuse registration of the party. On 16th October, the High Court heard UTM's appeal, and adjourned the matter for ruling on a date to be communicated to the parties.

As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, politicians from opposition parties have been facing restrictions as the government gears up for the next general elections in May 2019. Activists, human rights defenders and electoral candidates have also been reported to be facing intimidation and receiving threats.

Expression

Concerns have been raised regarding the frequency with which courts have been granting injunctions to prevent the media and political parties from commenting or writing about cases involving corruption, public officials and high profile individuals.

On 5th October 2018, the United Transformation Movement (UTM) was served with an injunction restraining their members from commenting on a high profile matter which involves the payment of K3 billion (4.07 million USD) compensation by the Attorney General to firms known as Sunrise Pharmaceuticals Limited and Chombe Foods Limited. These payments were made even as the government failed to collect K4.9 billion (6.6 million USD) in loans from the same group of companies.

UTM announced their intention to challenge the High Court Order because ‘the matters are in the public domain, …. [the] Order violates several freedoms enshrined under the Constitution of Malawi most notably the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech and [it] amounts to a gagging order’. Similar injunctions in other corruption matters have been reported. In cases involving former Admarc CEO Foster Mulumbe and former Roads Authority CEO Trevor Hiwa, the courts also issued orders preventing the media from writing or commenting on both cases.