Law experts want the repeal of presidential insult law as it is a crime to insult the Malawi President punishable by prison sentence or a fine.
University of Malawi law professor Edge Kanyongolo and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi chapter chairperson Thom Khanje have argued that individuals should not be criminalized for merely expressing themselves.
Kanyongolo said this during Daybreak Malawi a radio program on Capital FM on Thursday that Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all citizens.
“In democracy we should be very accommodating of criticizing,” he said.
“Laws such as these [insulting the President] have no place in a democracy that guarantees freedom of expression,” Kanyongolo stated.
He said by criminalizing ‘insulting the President’ will threaten even newspaper cartoonists for their satirical art work.
“Every citizen is supposed to be protected. We should not make Heads of State as demi-god. There are no special laws for the president. We are all equal before the law,” said Kanyongolo.
Commenting on the same, Khanje said Freedom of Expression is a hallmark of democracy as its unfettered enjoyment contributes to functional democracy that encourages citizen participation for good governance and accountability.
“The constitution guarantees freedom of expression which include criticising the President,” said Khanje.
He advocated for the repeal of sections of the penal code that impede the enjoyment of freedom of expression.
The calls comes after FaceofMalawi reported that Balaka First Grade Magistrate Court has ordered a 60-year-old man to pay a fine of K3, 000 or in default serve three months imprisonment with hard labour for insulting President Peter Mutharika and denigrating him.
According to Police Prosecutor Constable Christopher Nyirongo, the convict Alinafe Paul committed an offence on August 31 at Kanyumbaka village in the district when he found a grader grading the earth road past his village.
He accused the President of grading the earth road during the dry season which was making a lot of dust. Paul has since paid the fine to avoid jail term.
Arrests of citizens for insulting or undermining the authority of President have been happening even during the rule of Joyce Banda, Bingu wa Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi.
Many rights campaigners have argued that protecting Head of State or public officials from criticism solely because of their function or status cannot be reconciled with modern democracy and violates freedom of expression.
They argue that exposure to increased criticism of public officials is an inevitable consequence of a career in politics, and freedom of political debate is integral to the contemporary concept of a democratic society.