NEWS RELEASE – Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Trust (SAHRDT)
TIME FOR DEMOCRATIC DIALOGUE IN MALAWI
NOT DEATH THREATS AND UNFOUNDED TREASON CHARGES
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 for 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.