CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Malawi

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Last updated on 30.01.2019 at 08:45

Malawi-Overview

Civic space is protected in law but government intimidation and over-zealous policing in Malawi impede activism and civil society organisations’ operations in practice.

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Politically motivated violence stifling freedoms of assembly and association

Politically motivated violence stifling freedoms of assembly and association

Association

On 10th January 2019, United Transformation Movement (UTM) party Member of Parliament, Bon Kalindo, was arrested for insulting the President and for disorderly conduct. Days later after his release on bail, on 16th January, Kalindo was assaulted by youths from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at the District Commissioner’s premises in the southern town of Mulanje.

A few days later, on 20th January, Malawi Congress Party member Edward Govati was also attacked by the same DDP youths. On this same day, a man and a woman belonging to UTM were attacked by the same youths and forced to take off their UTM T-shirts, leaving the woman in her underwear and the man half naked in Mangochi district.

Responding to the rising cases of political violence, on 28th January 2019, representatives of six political parties, including the ruling party (DPP) and the main opposition Malawi congress Party called on the police to address the political violence and bring those involved to justice. In a joint communique issued by the representatives, after they participated in a joint meeting to discuss about the spate of political violence, they said:

“We demand [that] the police work tirelessly to bring these perpetrators of violence to justice …and … those who fuel these incidents should also be brought to justice”.

In a statement issued by the United States ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer expressed concern over incidents of political violence. She however also commended the country’s political leaders for condemning the recent acts of violence including the targeting of women. 

Association

People have the right to form and join associations without interference but there are several laws that affect civil society operations.

People have the right to form and join associations without interference but there are several laws that affect civil society operations. NGOs must register with the Registrar General under the Trustees Incorporation Act or the Companies Act. According to the NGO Act, organisations must also register with the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (CONGOMA) as well as with the NGO Board of Malawi. The double tier process involves the payment of annual fees to each institution, an onerous burden for small organisations. The NGO Act also requires NGOs to sign a memorandum of understanding for any activities perform by the organisation. The NGO Board has the power to cancel or suspend registration of an NGO on various grounds including engagement in partisan politics. Since 2016, government has been developing a draft NGO Policy, which contains several restrictive provisions. In April 2017, the government introduced the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Bill, which was criticised for its lack of transparency and the government's failure to consult with civil society. Human rights defenders are sometimes subjected to harassment, intimidation, arrest and derogatory remarks by authorities, who occasion have labelled them as enemies of the state.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests are common in Malawi and large numbers of citizens have taken to the streets on a range of issues, including to speak out against corruption and calling for a more equitable distribution of resources.

Protests are common in Malawi and large numbers of citizens have taken to the streets on a range of issues, including to speak out against corruption and calling for a more equitable distribution of resources. Although there is no specific legislation that governs the organisation of demonstrations, the Police Act 2009 requires protest organisers to provide authorities with 48 hours’ notice. The Act requires authorisation for demonstrations within the precincts of Parliament, a State Residence, or a court. In practice, police forces have used excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse protestors. In 2014 for example, the police shot and killed one demonstrator who was calling for a recount of votes in the presidential elections.

Expression

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed in Malawi.

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed in Malawi. However, this right is limited by other laws, including the Protected Flag, Emblems, and Names Act which prescribes prison terms for insulting the president and various national symbols. Defamation remains a criminal offense in Malawi. Violence and harassment against journalists were common under the administration of President Bingu wa Mutharika, but has decreased under subsequent governments. The Access to Information (ATI) Law was finally approved by Malawi’s Parliament in December 2016, and signed by the President in February 2017, after many years of civil society advocacy. There are no major restrictions on the internet; however, accessibility remains limited for many due to high costs.