State continues to suppress civic activism in Malawi

Peaceful Assembly

In January, citizens and opposition politicians planned mass protests over a scandal involving the purchase and sale of maize by the state-run maize management company, ADMARC. In turn, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sought to discredit the protests by accusing opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera and civil society organisations of planning violent demonstrations, even though there were no indications that the events would turn violent. 

In February, police detained youth activist, Steven Simsokwe, for campaigning against the relocation of a refugee camp from its current location near the capital city to a remote village. Simsokwe mobilised a group of young people to block the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative from visiting the refugee camp, believing it would have been perceived as support for the relocation. He was released after five hours of questioning and plans to continue the campaign. 

Expression

In February, the High Court in Malawi plans to reach a decision on treason charges against three Malawians arrested in 2016 because of a WhatsApp chat about organising a peaceful demonstration to highlight social and economic issues facing the country. The authorities have been holding the trio for a year now and their lawyer, Gustave Kaliwo, has pushed for the case to be dismissed, claiming that the state has failed to prosecute them in a timely manner. 

A University of Malawi law student, Negracious Justin, has gone into exile and fears for his life after expressing his opinion on Facebook about a US$ 500 million water project. The student suspected corruption and provided statistics showing that the water pipes would cost five million dollars per kilometer to install. "They will be laying gold pipes," he asserted, and was subsequently bombarded with serious threats from ruling party supporters. Given that another college student was murdered in 2016 as a result of similar activism, there is reason to be concerned and, to date, Justin remains in hiding.