Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Malawi constitution but there are concerns of ‘freedom after expression’ especially for human rights defenders, public intellectuals, opposition politicians and critics of the regime including media practitioners.
Two of the country’s vocal human rights’ bodies have observed that Malawi is “swiftly retrogressing” or taking the wrong direction in as far as protection and promotion of civil liberties are concerned.
The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) said they have noted “a growing trend of intolerance to criticism” by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, and in some cases “attempts to stifle public and civil society space through the use of National Intelligence Bureau and the village of Presidential Advisors whose ultimate job has been to spy on the critics of the regime, instill fear in the public and in some cases use divide and rule strategy using tax payers’ money to split the Civil Society.
In a joint statement made available to Nyasa Times, CHRR and Cedep cited the recent public pronouncements from the Presidency like: “Nilibe pulobulemu”, “I stopped reading newspapers”, “Idiots should stop commenting on public issues”, saying they do not only show a leadership that portrays itself as immune to criticism but also a leadership that has lost touch with the current realities – the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country.
The statement signed by CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, said The politically-motivated treason and sedition cases against the opposition leaders of Malawi Congress Party, the recent “systematic”, politically orchestrated violence in Mzuzu at the solidarity opposition rally organized by Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Peoples Party (PP), and Alliance For Democracy (AFORD), and the arrests of the youths who were demonstrating in Mzuzu, all clearly indicate that Malawi is fastly graduating into a reign of terror where any dissent view or action viewed an offence to the current regime.
The two organisations also commented on claims by University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political scientist Blessings Chinsinga that he is receiving death threats from regime operatives.
According to Chinsinga, he started to live dangerously after the just ended high-level conference of civil rights and religious leaders and academics, who met in Blantyre under the aegis of the quasi-religion Public Affairs Committee (PAC).
“They are threatening to kill me,” said Chinsinga. “I think some people were not happy with my contributions to my last PAC meeting.”
CHRR and Cedep said they believe that claims of death threats are not laughing matters that one can just easily dismiss, and as such they deserve to be accorded a high degree of attention.
Government spokesperson Jappie Mhango said Chinsinga invites trouble for himself for always blaming the Mutharika administration and dismissed his claims as “pack of lies”
But the human rights campaigners said reaction by government spokesman, who is also the Minister of Information, is “insensitive”.
It is such insensitive statements that further put the concerned academic and even other human rights defenders, journalists, academics, opposition and other critics of the regime at risk in as far as executing their watchdog role is concerned, said the two in a statement.
The rights campaigners noted that the culture of impunity as exemplified in the delays in the investigations of the murder of Anti-Corruption Bureau Officer IssaNjaunju, extrajudicial killings of July 20, 2011, student activist Robert Chasowa’s murder and threats and arson to offices of human rights defenders between 2011 and 2012 are adding more reasons why these death threats should not be taken lightly.
“It is therefore in view of the above that we at CHRR and Cedep condemn Mutharika’s regime stance on the death threats against Chinsinga as it is contrary to both domestic and international obligations which call upon governments to put in place necessary measures to protect human rights defenders who include not only activists but also academics, journalists, and other groups who work in the defence of human rights and democratic governance,” reads the statement.
The two groups appealed to President Peter Mutharika and his government to strongly condemn the death threats on University of Malawi academic as well as similar threats against some members of the opposition.
They said the President should also provide assurance of state’s protection of human rights defenders, public intellectuals, journalists and politicians in the country “in a context where criticism of the government is fastly becoming a crime.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :