CIVICUS

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Malawi

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Last updated on 19.09.2018 at 14:56

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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Opposition party members, activists and CSOs intimidated ahead of the general elections

Opposition party members, activists and CSOs intimidated ahead of the general elections

Association

In May 2019, Malawi will hold general elections. As political parties start campaigning, it was reported on 12th September 2018, that opposition politicians are being prevented from holding political rallies in the area of Zomba by the Senior Chief. According to a Member of Parliament, the chief has been campaigning for candidates from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and has warned the area’s traditional leaders not to allow other politicians to hold political rallies and meetings in the area, or otherwise risk dethronement.

In separate developments, on 6th September 2018, the U.N. human rights office warned that human rights defenders and activists in Malawi are under increasing threat as pre-election politics gear up for the next general elections in May 2019. The statement notes that thugs attacked the offices of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Lilongwe, while in another incident an activist received death threats after issuing a press statement against corruption. In its report, the UN office also expressed concern over an emerging pattern of threats and violence against women members of parliament and electoral candidates, citing an incident where a female MP’s car was torched in Mangochi in the south of the country in August 2018. 

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.