Time for democratic dialogue in Malawi - Not death threats and unfounded treason charges

NEWS RELEASE – Statement by the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Trust (SAHRDT)            

Johannesburg, July 26: In the wake of last week’s bloody demonstrations in Malawi, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Trust (SAHRDT) calls on President Bingu wa Mutharika to engage in an open, national debate about the country’s future – rather than resorting to more inflammatory attacks on civil society leaders and pro-democracy activists. Any intention of charging the organisers of the protests – who were merely exercising their constitutional rights – with treason should also be abandoned since the allegations are clearly unfounded and absurd.

Many of the coordinators of the ‘For a better Malawi’ demonstrations and their families have received death threats and some of them are now in hiding – genuinely fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Those in hiding include Undule Mwakasungula, Gift Trapence, Rafiq Hajat and Luther Mambala. These threats can be linked to the President’s public remarks about dealing with leaders of the demonstration – that he would ‘smoke them out’ and charge them with treason for trying to overthrow his government.

We call upon President wa Mutharika to immediately refrain from using inflammatory language when referring to civic leaders, as this can be interpreted as orders to ruling party members, sympathisers and government officials to target those linked to the marches and indeed anyone critical of his government’s policies. We further appeal to President wa Mutharika to desist from any political or legal harassment of civic leaders – and instead to involve them in meaningful debate about the best way forward for the country.

SAHRDT condemns all the violence and looting that marred the protests but we particularly decry the excessive use of force – including the unwarranted use of live ammunition – by the police, which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of so many unarmed civilians. We are also appalled by the lack of any kind of apology from the authorities and by the lack of any move towards instigating a proper inquiry into the deaths of 18 Malawians. We call upon the President to urgently open an independent and transparent investigation to provide a comprehensive account of what happened on July 20th and bring all those directly involved in violence, looting and the killing of unarmed civilians to court.

Given the scale of the bloodshed and the systematic threats to governance, the rule of law, peace and stability of Malawi, which could ultimately impact negatively on other countries in the region, we also urge SADC to show leadership and place Malawi on the agenda of its upcoming annual summit in Luanda in order to defuse the political tension in the country.

Finally, we reiterate an earlier call by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to urgently undertake a fact finding visit to Malawi through the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to investigate political harassment and abuses threatening the work – and lives – of human rights defenders.

Leopoldo Amaral, Director of SAHRDT, Tel: +27 11 587 5000, Email:

 

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