Two universities closed over academic freedom protest
Two universities of the University of Malawi, Chancellor College and the Polytechnic, have been closed as the penultimate act of a two months long protest by staff and students, demanding academic freedom reassurance, the Nation reported on 1st April 2011.
The University Council announced the closure of the two universities until further notice due to lecturers and students demonstrations. In an official statement, the authorities justify the decision as a necessary way to protect students as well as properties after a week of battle between students and police. Students at Chancellor College have been asked to leave the campus.
Lecturers, represented by their lawyer Thokozani Ngwirwa, launched a legal action at the Blantyre Industrial Relations Court, basing their action on the Labour Relations Act which calls for mediation in any conflict before a lock-out is ordered. They argue that the University Council’s decision is illegal since they were no mediation.
On Friday, three lecturers, members of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU), were fired by the university authorities, accused to be leaders of the protesting movement. The decision targeted Dr. Jessie Kabwila, president of the CCASU, Franz Amin, her Secretary General and Dr. Garton Kamchedzera, legal advisor. The CCASU sought and obtained an injunction from the Zomba High Court preventing the University Council to sack the academics.
The movement started in February 2011 after Blessings Chinsinga, an associate political science professor, was interrogated by Peter Mukhito, the Malawi Inspector General of Police, about a parallel he drew in a lecture between Malawi's current fuel crisis and the popular uprisings that happened in Tunisia and Egypt.
His colleagues at the Chancellor College went on strike to protest against the lack of academic freedom and interference in their work. As a condition to return to class, the academic staff asked for official apologies from the Chief of Police and assurance of respect of academic freedom as guaranteed in the constitution. As Mukhito refused to apologise arguing that academic freedom must be balanced with national security issues, the movement was soon followed by violent student demonstrations on campuses. Several students, including student unions representatives were arrested by the police.
The Polytechnic academic staff joined their colleagues in the protest three weeks ago but decided, after a vote, to go back to class last week. This decision, seen by students as a betrayal, was followed by violent clashes between the police and students and several arrests.
Increasing concerns have been raised by the international community regarding the respect of human rights in Malawi.
1. Respectfully urging the President of Malawi to respect freedom of speech and academic freedom as guaranteed in the Malawian constitution.
2. Respectfully urging the Malawian authorities to reopen Chancellor College and the Polytechnic without delay so that the academic staff and students can continue with their classes.
3. Respectfully urging the Malawian authorities to re-examine the circumstances of Dr. Jessie Kabwila, Franz Amin and Dr. Garton Kamchedzera’s dismissals.
His Excellency Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika,
President of the Republic of Malawi,
Private Bag 301,
Phone: +265 1 789311 / 411
Fax: +265 1 788456 / +265 1 789273
Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika,
Minister of Education, Science and Technology,
Capital Hill, Private Bag 328,
Phone: +265-1-78-9382 / +265 1 789422
Malawian Ambassador to your country of residence
(See this link for a list of Malawian diplomatic and consular missions worldwide.)
PLEASE ALSO SEND COPIES OF YOUR APPEALS TO:
Network for Education and Academic Rights
90 London Road,
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7021 0884
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7021 0881
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Alert - Malawi
|Date:||07 April 2011|
|Violation:||Academic freedom violation, Arbitrary dismissal|
|Affected Persons:||Malawian academics and students|
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