The government of Malawi must stop the clampdown on peaceful protests and respect the rights of its citizens to voice concerns which is in line with the country’s national and international human rights obligations, said the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, today. On 20 July 2022, Malawians took to the streets to express their views against “selective justice” by the country’s judiciary over corruption cases and the high cost of living. Protesters are concerned by the selective application of the rule of law, and judiciary’s failure to prosecute corrupt politicians.
Malawian authorities have resorted to using extreme violence and brutal attacks to respond to the protests. About 76 protesters, including human rights activists, were arrested by police on 20 July 2022, after participating in a peaceful protest in Lilongwe, and subsequently charged for inciting violence, unlawful assembly, and contempt of court. Protesters argue that the government’s stance on combating corruption is slow and often selective, leaving highly connected politicians free while less connected citizens are harassed and not given due justice as guaranteed by the constitution. Many protesters were brutally beaten and detained in police stations, with reports of serious torture in the detention facilities.
In response to the protests, security forces brutally arrested four leaders of the Human Rights Ambassadors group, which organised the demonstrations. Police used teargas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to quell the protests.
“The government of President Lazarus Chakwera is starting to resort to the same levels of violence as the previous government. More protests are planned for the future and the Malawian authorities must respect the right of its citizens to express themselves about issues affecting them as enshrined in the Malawian constitution and international human rights frameworks that Malawi is party to.” said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Africa Lead for CIVICUS.
In March, activists supported by peaceful citizens organised an anti-corruption demonstration in Lilongwe. In response, police tear-gassed, arrested and detained many of the peaceful protesters. Malawi is a constitutional republic and has ratified and domesticated several regional and international human rights instruments. However, Malawi’s police have in recent times used violence and brutal force against protesters. Persistent cases of reported corruption continue to hinder rule of law, justice and economic development of citizens. Significant human rights abuses by police include degrading treatment of women, such as rape; arbitrary arrest or detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and serious acts of corruption. The inadequate justice system, along with dire socio-economic conditions and widespread perception of pervasive corruption, continue to undermine good governance, a culture of human rights, justice and equality, as promised by President Chakwera to the people of Malawi in 2019.
Civic space in Malawi is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.