Malawi falls again on Human Rights Index

Repressive laws such as the Section 46 of the Penal Code and the injunctions law, police abuse and heavy-handedness in reacting to street protests are some of the issues that stained Malawi’s human rights record in 2011.

This is according to a latest report issued on January 30th by the reputed Geneva based international human rights body, Human Rights Watch (HRC).

The report comes just a day after Malawi entered in the history books for being the first ever country worldwide to drop 67 places on press freedom index as evaluated by another global annual report by the France-based watchdog for press freedom, Reporters Without Borders.

Kaliati and Zikhale: In defence of rights record

The Human Rights Watch report primarily attributes the “drastically deteriorated” human rights situation in the country to increasing oppressive acts by President Bingu wa Mutharika administration.

But authorities have hit back at HRW and Reporters Without Boarders arguing their reports are off track as all the issues raised in both reports are already being addressed by government.

Presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba dismissed the latest media ranking index  as unrealistic.

“I am convinced that journalists in Malawi enjoy a measure of freedom that is not found in many countries in the world.”

Solicitor General and Justice Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Antony Kamanga told Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS): “In fact I must say the Human Rights Watch is off track because as you are aware we have either special commissions or committees looking into these matters.”

HRW and Reporters Without Borders have both observed in their reports that journalists and human rights defenders in the country have increasingly come under attack of security forces and followers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) instilling anxiety in them.

The two international agencies have also condemned introduction of repressive laws such as the injunctions law and the controversial Section 46 of the Penal Code which empowers a minister to ban a publication.

In its report, the HRW says fuel and foreign currency shortages and rising food prices have taken a toll on the country, reversing the economic gains President Mutharika achieved during his first five-year-term of office.

The global report also highlights government’s heavy-handedness reaction to the July 20 and 21, 2011 street protests where 20 people were left dead and 23 journalists injured as some factors that led to the decrease in human rights decay.

The murder by suspected state agents of university student Robert Chasowa and the issue of University of Malawi academic freedom have also been stressed in the report as some attributes for the significant increase of human rights abuse.

In 2011, Malawians witnessed a year never-to-forget as activists came under severe attack from President Mutharika and his henchmen, faced death threats, beatings and petrol bombings of their homes and offices but until now there has been no action from the law enforcers to prosecute the perpetrators despite knowing identities of some doers.

A public outrage led by the civil society leaders, however, resulted in government taking back the oppressive laws to the Malawi Law Commission for further review.

Government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati e defended  Malawi’s record, saying there are “no political prisoners” in the country’s jails.

Ruling DPP’s national campaign Ken Zikhale Ng’oma also said  described President Mutharika as a defendor of human rights.

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