President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday hit back at the Amnesty International and other human rights groups for blaming government after arrests of leaders of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) for planning to hold protests aimed at shutting down presidential residences.
Two members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) — vice chairperson Gift Trapence and member Macdonald Sembereka — were arrested Sunday after saying they would organize demonstrations. HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo surrendered to police Tuesday.
Their aim was to pressure President Peter Mutharika to sign electoral reform bills paving the way for fresh elections after Malawi’s constitutional court nullified last May’s polls. The court cited massive irregularities in the vote, which saw Mutharika reelected.
The electoral bills propose a date for fresh elections and procedures to follow in case of runoffs.
Addressing people during the launch of the Shire Valley Transformation Programme Phase One at Chikwawa community ground on, a visibly charged Mutharika called on the human rights bodies to exercise fairness in their criticisms.
Mutharika said there was no way one would describe the activities of the groupings as human rights because they have been destructive to the country.
“What they are doing is not human rights, it’s criminal,” he challenged.
“I am an international law expert and I have been teaching human rights law at reputable universities in the world and I know what human rights are,” Mutharika said.
He added: “You cannot close down the State House; then you are putting the President under house arrest, that’s treason.”
Mutharika said he will advise all security agencies to stop the demonstrations using force.
Paramount Chief Lundu expressed dismay over the recent developments in the country and said that it is now time for the president to act and put to an end all the lawlessness.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Regional Governor for the South, Charles Mchacha said Malawians and churches should be cautious with some of the HRDC leaders, saying most of them have a hidden agenda as they are the same people that were advocating for legislation of homosexuality in the country.
But Amnesty International says the arrests are a government attempt to crack down on dissenting views.
The international human rights body has asked Malawi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release the detained activists.”
“The activists simply stated their intention, which is allowed under freedom of expression,” said Vongai Chikwanda, Amnesty International’s campaigner for Southern Africa. “The crime has not been committed. So are you arresting people before the crime has been committed? However, the police should have simply said, ‘According to our laws, this is what the penal code says in relation to what has been proposed.’ It does not warrant an arrest.”
The arrests were made just hours after Mutharika denounced the planned protest at a Blantyre political rally and ordered security to stop the group.
Mark Botoman, the Malawi government’s spokesperson, said those condemning the government are ignorant on the country’s laws.
“I think you understand that Amnesty International does not live in Malawi,” he said. “They may have connections in Malawi, they may be fed with information from here, but I think the context of the matter is these people have been arrested because they are suspected to have committed a crime. And in our country, whether you are a human rights defender or anyone else, including myself as a minister, if I break the law, the long arm of law can catch up with me.”
Meanwhile, a court in Lilongwe will rule on the bail application on Thursday.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :