Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - The on-going stand-off between University of Malawi lecturers and Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito continue to dominate the headlines in the Malawi media this week.
"Lecturers Not On Strike" was the headline in The Daily Times, reporting on a ruling by High Court judge, Justice Rowland Mbvundula, quashing an application by the University Council and four students who wanted the court to rule that the lecturers' class boycott was illegal and they must return to class.
"The lecturers are involved in teaching, research and out-reach programmes. Absence from teaching is not a strike. The lecturers’ action did not flout any laid down procedures under the Labour Relations Act," the daily quoted Justice Mbvundula as saying.
On the same story, The Nation reported that "the lecturers cannot be forced back into lecture rooms infested with spies".
For nine weeks, lecturers at Zomba-based Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, have been boycotting classes following the police chief's summoning of Associate Political Science Professor Blessings Chinsinga over a class-room example he gave.
Dr. Chinsinga reportedly told a public policy class that insurrections like those that have toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt are sparked by crises like Malawi current fuel shortages.
Lecturers at Chancellor College, joined by their colleges at the Polytechnic - another constituent college of the University of Malawi - reacted by boycotting classes and demanding an apology from Mukhito and assurances of academic freedom.
But the police chief has insisted he cannot apologise because he was only doing his job of ensuring national security. President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is both Chancellor of the University of Malawi and Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service, threw his weight behind Mukhito, saying the police boss cannot apologise to teachers "who are teaching revolution".
But the stand-off has attracted condemnation from far and wide, with universities in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States petitioning President Mutharika to assure Malawi academics and students their academic freedom.
An African research body, the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA), even reacted by postponing an international colloquium to honour "one of the greatest African scholars, Malawian-born Prof. Thandika Mkandawire.- now with the London School of Economics".
As if to stress the point that Malawi's human rights record was on the decline during the week, the Weekend Nation repored on a leaked 'diplomatic telegram' between the British High Commissioner to Malawi Fergus Cochrane-Dyet and British Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague.
"President Mutharika is becoming even more autocratic and intolerant of criticism," the weekly quoted Cochrane-Dyet as saying. "Some ambassadors have been summoned by the Foreign Minister for a dressing down, others (including me) have been summoned by the President's brother for a gentler delivery of the same message: stop supporting civil society to destabilise government."
The week also saw headlines on Malawi sending a battalion of 850 troops to join a peace-keeping initiative in Cote d'Ivoire and reports on threats against human rights activists who criticise the Mutharika administration.
-0- PANA RT/SEG 16April2011