The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights has written the Malawi government over allegations that regimeofficials have been intimidating activists who have been seeking for accountability for the National Aids Commission (NAC) financial abuses.
At least 22 Civil Society Organisations in Malawi working in the realm of human rights, health and HIV/AIDS led mass demonstrations on 13th January 2015 in protest of dwindling state of governance and diverting of NAC funding to entities that do not directly deal with HIV/AIDS intervention.
The period prior to the demonstrations witnessed a high level government orchestrated media propaganda demonizing CSOs leaders through state-media MBC and the ruling controlled private media houses and online blogsg with the main casualties being the spokesperson of the demonstrations Timothy Mtambo of CHRR, Gift Trapence of Cedep, Macdonald Sembereka of MANERELA and Martha Kwataine of MHEN.
The period also witnessed government’s orchestrated propaganda machinery parading chiefs, vendors, and some activists on state media to attack CSOs under the anti-NACgate banner.
However, in a letter addressed to government through US Ambassador to Malawi and permanent representative to the UN Brian Bowler, several government officials are said to have been threatening human rights defenders and their organisations.
According to the letter, the Cedep and MANERELA executive directors are reported to have received 50 anonymous threatening calls prior to the Civil Society-led demonstrations against NAC for channeling funds to institutions with links to the Presidency, the Beautify Malawi Trust and Mulhakho Wa Alhomwe.
“On 12 January 2015 – a day before the demonstrations – the NGOs involved in the organizing the demonstrations met with three government ministers at the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC). During the meeting, the ministers allegedly attempted to dissuade the organisers from going ahead with the demonstrations. On the same day, at press conference on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation TV, the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare allegedly threatened to deregister any NGO participating in the demonstrations,” reads the letter.
The letter also asks Malawi government to explain the media defamation launched by the state machinery against human rights defenders and how this is reconciled to government’s commitment and obligations to protect human rights defenders and freedom of assembly.
Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice Dr Janet Banda has said government will respond to the letter.
She however described the allegations as “shocking and unfounded”.
Banda has since indicated that as government they had now formed an opinion that for CSOs it was not a question of them doing any research but a question of sustainability of their own donor funding.
While confirming writing UN Agency of the allegedly threats and defamation, Cedep executive director Gift Trapence indicated that government’s accusation was one of the regime’s strategies to divert public attention from real human rights issues citing government’s continued failure to respond and address issues in the 13th January 2015 petition.
Ironically, amongst the issues raised in 13th January demonstrations are issues pertaining to demonization of the right to demonstration and freedom of assembly and freedom of expression as well as ruling party’s control of MBC as a tool to unleash attacks on critical voices of the regime
“Malawians are concerned with government’s orchestrated propaganda to demonise constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly and right to demonstration which clearly indicate that the right to freedom of expression through demonstration, written or spoken has nothing todo with whether demonstrations are justifiable or not in the eyes of a third party.
“By demonizing these fundamental rights through state and some DPP-controlled private media, the government is sending a worrisome message to the public that it has no respect or regards for the constitution as well as its commitments towards protection and respect of human rights,” reads part of the petition.
Meanwhile, according to inside government sources the letter from UN has brought anger within the DPP and government hierarchy with some tasked to develop strategies on how to deal with the said activists and institutions.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :