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Government recommends review of draconian laws

(MISA/IFEX) - 9 December 2011 - The Malawi government has referred to the Law Commission for review some draconian laws recently passed in Parliament, including Section 46 of the Penal Code which empowers a minister to ban publications deemed unsuitable for public good.

The change in government's stand on the matter is attributed to mounting pressure from civil society organizations and the donor community for government to address economic and governance concerns which saw some donor countries freezing their aid to Malawi.

The decision to have the laws reviewed was announced by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ephraim Chiume and Leader of the House George Chaponda at a press conference held in the Capital Lilongwe, on Wednesday 7 December 2011.

The repressive laws include Section 46 of the Penal Code which empowers a cabinet minister to ban a newspaper; the anti-injunction law and the provisions regarding indecent and unnatural justice.

Chiume said the laws would be sent to the Law Commission, a development he described as the first step towards a comprehensive review.

"The government of Malawi wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that in view of the sentiments from the general public regarding certain laws and provisions of certain laws passed by the National Assembly, it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the Law Commission for review," Chiume said.

He further said the Law Commission is expected to undertake a comprehensive review of the laws in accordance with its mandate under the Constitution and the Law Commission Act and consequently make appropriate recommendations for consideration by the government.

Meanwhile, a letter of the submission of the laws signed by Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice Anthony Kamanga, a former law Commissioner himself, has since been written and was expected to be sent to the Law Commission.

In a related development, the country's key donors under the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (Cabs) group have once again asked government to speedily address economic and governance concerns raised by members of the public for the donors to resume providing support to the country.

In a statement issued on December 7, 2011, at the conclusion of their review of state of affairs in Malawi following their meeting in October, the Cabs group has also asked Malawi to earnestly work on reviving the programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

MISA Malawi and the Media Council of Malawi have been challenging the constitutionality of Section 46 of the Penal Code as amended since the amendment in November 2011. The matter was currently before Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo for certification as a constitutional case.

State President Bingu wa Mutharika assented to the bill in November 2010, a move that did not go down well with both local and international organizations, foreign governments, donors, rights groups and churches.

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