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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 18:36 GMT
Judge punishes Blantyre mayor
Mayor John Chikakwiya
Mayor John Chikakwiya: Told he needed civic eduation
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

The mayor of Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, John Chikakwiya, and three senior police officers have been found guilty of contempt of court.

The High Court in Blantyre found that they disregarded a court order restraining them from disrupting an opposition political rally in the city.

The four were sentenced to 14 days imprisonment, suspended for one and a half years.

This follows events on 15 January when the mayor ordered police to disrupt a rally to be addressed by sacked former senior minister Brown Mpinganjira.

Injunction ignored

Mr Mpinganjira and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had teamed up with leaders of the opposition alliance of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) for the meeting.

Brown Mpinganjira
Brown Mpinganjira: Creating a problem for the government
After the mayor's order the pressure group obtained a court injunction restraining the mayor from disrupting the meeting.

But the mayor, the High Court heard, ignored the injunction order and ordered the police to use teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the 10,000 people who came to hear Mr Mpinganjira speaking.

Several people were injured, some seriously, during a stampede.

The NDA complained to the court that its injunction order was disregarded.

Disrespect

Making his ruling in a packed room, presiding judge Justice Edward Twea said the mayor and the police officers acted in total disrespect of the courts.

He said the police officers' argument that they were waiting for an order from above for them to act on the injunction was in total disregard of Malawi's democratic principles.

"The Malawi Police Service is a people's service but it's unfortunate that the police still look for orders from above in disregard to the rule of law," he said.

Dumbo
Minister Dumbo Lemani appears in court next week
Judge Twea said the 15 January police action clearly showed that the police were acting on the whim of one political party (the ruling United Democratic Front) at the expense of the other political parties.

On Mr Chikakwiya, the judge said it was high time the mayor was told to draw a line between party politics and civic duties.

"The mayor needs civic education on his role as mayor; he has to be told that his office should be above politics," he said.

Mr Chikakwiya refused to speak to journalists after the ruling.

Monday's ruling is a symbolic victory for Mr Mpinganjira and his party, whose arrival on the political scene in January has raised the political temperature in Malawi.

Last week, government minister Dumbo Lemani was charged with contempt of court for ignoring a magistrate's order not to criticise Mr Mpinganjira.

Mr Lemani was in court to support the mayor.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Africa
Malawi minister causes court stir
06 Nov 00 | Africa
Heads roll in Malawi cabinet
29 Dec 00 | Africa
Malawi minister freed on bail
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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