Activist arrested for holding allegedly unauthorised demonstration

Peaceful Assembly

On 18th October, authorities arrested human rights activist Billy Mayaya in the Malawian capital Lilongwe. He was arrested along with two other activists as they led a protest against power blackouts in the country. Upon their arrest, demonstrators dispersed while complaining about the lack of respect for their right to freely demonstrate. Mr. Mayaya and the two other arrestees were charged with holding an unauthorised demonstration, although fellow activists reported that they had followed all legal procedures and that the police therefore had no reason to detain them. Mr. Mayaya said he had given due notice to the police about the demonstration although they had advised him to cancel the protest because they had another assignment at that time.

Expression

In October, the Director General of the Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (MACRA), Godfrey Itaye, announced that MACRA would soon start regulating social media use in the country. He reported that he was waiting for the president to sign the recently passed Electronic Transactions Bill in order to launch its implementation. Mr. Itaye emphasised:

“We need to regulate content on social media and all other platforms that publish stories. People must take responsibility."

The new law widens the competence of MACRA beyond traditional media and introduces regulations on social media. According to Section 89 of the law, "any person who uses a computer for making any request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent, commits an offence know as cyber harrassment and shall upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2,000,000.00 and to imprisonment for five years.” Some observers believe that the new law will be used to crack down on the critical voices of journalists, civil society activists and the political opposition.

Association

In September, a report by the Malawi NGO Board stated that NGOs had failed to account for billions of Kwacha in donor funds; according to the authorities, about 90 percent of donor money was unaccounted for. The Council of NGOs (Congoma) however argued that this was untrue and that it constituted a ploy by the NGO Board to obstruct the work of critical NGOs and to silence critical voices. According to Congoma chair Macbain Mkandawire, the government is trying to administratively criminalise NGOs so as to provide excuses for intrusion, clamp downs and closures of organisations.