Freedom House Condemns Crackdown on Demonstrations in Malawi | Freedom House

Freedom House Condemns Crackdown on Demonstrations in Malawi

Washington

Freedom House strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown on demonstrators and journalists protesting the political and economic climate in Malawi and calls upon the government to cease these attacks and to instead engage in a peaceful dialogue to address their legitimate concerns.
 
Eighteen people were killed and dozens injured on July 20 and 21 in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu when anti-government demonstrators, including a coalition of 80 human rights groups, clashed with police.  Police fired tear gas and live ammunition at demonstrators, who were drawn to the streets to protest against ongoing fuel shortages and austerity measures enacted by the government. Forty opposition leaders were arrested for their role in instigating the protests, and two journalists were arrested and remain in custody. Eight other reporters were beaten and one radio reporter seriously injured. In response to the demonstrations, the military deployed forces to two major cities, and the media regulatory agency turned off signals for a number of private radio stations. Broadcasters were warned not to air demonstration footage in the interest of national security.  Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika defended the police crackdown and claimed he would track down and prosecute demonstration organizers. 

“We are deeply concerned with the barbaric response by Mutharika and Malawi police to the demonstrations,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. "Malawians deserve the right to speak out without fear of arrest or detention. Freedom House supports the right of all citizens to peaceful assembly and calls upon Malawian authorities to immediately release those in detention and conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths of protesters."

The government of Malawi has a history of using a heavy-handed approach toward critics, with crackdowns on academic freedom and political dissent, which include arbitrary arrests and detentions. In recent months, the president has become increasingly hostile towards dissenting voices. In April 2011, the British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, was expelled from the country after leaked cables revealed he called Mutharika “combative” and “autocratic and intolerant of criticism.” Threats to media independence, nongovernmental organizations, and freedom of assembly remain major concerns. A recent reform to the penal code granted the minister of information the power to ban newspapers, magazines, films and other publications that are “contrary to the public interest.”  

Malawi was a one-party state until 1993 when then-President Hastings Banda ceded to intense internal and external calls for multi-party democracy. Mutharika, the head of the Democratic Progressive Party, ran for president in 2004 and for reelection in2009 in elections nominally regarded as free and fair. Economic turmoil, high unemployment, and an increasingly closed political space have threatened to reverse the country’s modest advances in recent years.  

Malawi is ranked Party Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
 
For more information on Malawi, visit:

Freedom in the World 2011: Malawi
Countries at the Crossroads 2010: Malawi

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.  
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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