MISA Malawi applauds the move by the Government of Malawi to repeal some sections of the Penal Code and the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act in order to stop criminal offences on sedition.
Notices from the Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda to the Malawi Parliament show that the government is expected to table the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2022. Both Bills propose the repeal of sedition offences.
In Malawi, administrations have often used such laws to silence and punish critical voices in the name of protecting ‘dignity and honour’ of public officials and offices.
Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act of 1967 reads: “Any person who does any act or utters any words or publishes or utters any writing calculated to or liable to insult, ridicule or to show disrespect to or with reference to the President, the National Flag, the Armorial Ensigns, the Public Seal, or any protected emblem or protected likeness, shall be liable to a fine of £1,000 and to imprisonment for two years”.
Sections 50 and 51 of the Penal Code spell out seditious intention and seditious offences by, among others, defining seditious intention as an intention “to bring into hatred and contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President, or the Government…”.
Successive governments have used these laws and sedition charges to restrict freedoms of expression and opinion; and gag criticism.
For several years, MISA Malawi has been calling for the repeal of such archaic and undemocratic laws as they are not only inconsistent with the current Constitutional order but are broad, vague and subject to abuse by the authorities who strongly dislike criticism or opposing views.
We are therefore delighted to note that the government has decided to remove such laws from our statutes. The move will definitely open up the civic space and ensure unhindered participation of every Malawian in the democratic discourse.
MISA Malawi urges Members of Parliament (MPs) to critically look at the proposed Bills and ensure that freedoms of expression, opinions and media freedom are upheld and protected.
We would also like to ask the government to move a step further and repeal all laws that restrict and criminalise freedoms of expression, opinion and the press in Malawi and level the field for unrestricted civic participation.