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CSO leaders getting death threats

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Some civil society organisations (CSOs) leaders, who are calling for the resignation of President Peter Mutharika, say they are receiving death threats through anonymous phone calls following their critical stand.

In two separate interviews, Timothy Mtambo of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Gift Trapence of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) said they have since referred the matter to the United Nations (UN), claiming that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is now unleashing terror similar to what they face during late Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime.

But the DPP has since challenged the CSO leaders to go ahead and report the party to the UN, saying it will not be the first time for them to report the ruling party to the world body.

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On February 9 this year, the UN, through its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), wrote the Malawi Government demanding an explanation as to why CSO leaders that are critical of government continuously receive threats.

In an interview on Friday, Trapence and Mtambo said they received numerous threats ever since they joined hands with six other CSOs to petition Mutharika to step down following his failure to take charge of the country’s affairs.

“Now we are still receiving anonymous calls from unknown people threatening us as to why we are calling on the President to publish the names of people who went to New York, among others,” said Trapence.

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He said they have also seen gangster-like work of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) which instead of doing professional work, is being used as an instrument of terror against critics of Mutharika.

“We are not surprised that the same DPP that is known for propaganda is back with the same old tactics. We will not relent and be afraid of such threats. We lived with this during the time of President Bingu wa Mutharika. It’s the very same party and people who have not changed [and are] doing the same old politics,” said Trapence.

Mtambo said among those that are threatening him is a DPP sympathiser leading what is known as National Youth Forum Nelson Chijere Mwase who in 2011 was arrested for threatening his predecessor Undule Mwakasungula.

Mtambo said he thinks the current DPP is trying to resurrect the Bingu administration terror.

“One of the senior cadets has challenged us for a debate and the way they left the letter is mysterious. They left it at the gate with the security person and insisted in hiding their identity when the security man asked them to enter and deliver the letter officially,” he said.

The letter that was dropped at the CHRR gate signed by Mwase, dated October 26, 2015, is challenging Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila, former Bingu wa Mutharika’s legal adviser Allan Ntata and Mtambo to a debate.

“In recognition to the recent topical issues which has (sic) been tackled by a number of individuals and organisations in Malawi, I Nelson Chijere Mwase wishes to challenge the following to a public debate that will enable the populace appreciate the reality behind the same,” reads the letter in part.

He proposes that an independent director of ceremonies and a neutral venue, preferably in Blantyre, be identified between November 8 and 15 this year.

“This guy has a criminal record and Mwakasungula took him to court and I doubt if the matter was concluded,” said Mtambo.

But DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila said this is not the first time that the CSOs have made such claims and this is no news to them.

“They always report the DPP to the UN because they don’t like the DPP. And we will not stop them, they can go ahead,” challenged Kasaila.

Mtambo and Trapence two months ago also handed a petition to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland, to push government to conclude human rights abuses, including the investigations on the killing of University of Malawi student Robert Chasowa and threats that they had received before.

“There have been numerous calls for the Malawi government to ensure that those responsible should face justice and that the victims of this inhumane act should be compensated,” argues the two CSO representatives in the petition.

They also said although the Commission of Inquiry on the July 20 2011 killings submitted its report to the President of Malawi in June 2012—in which it established that 20 people were killed, 58 people were injured, and significant property damaged primarily as a result of police action—it remains unclear what specific actions have been taken by the Malawi Police Service to bring officers involved to justice, or by government to compensate victims and families.

The petition also states that after it was established that Chasowa was brutally murdered and while a Commission of Inquiry was established to examine the circumstances and details of his death released a report that linked some senior political and public officials, up to date no tangible results have yet come to light although.

The communication dated September 22, 2015 also wants the UN office to investigate and bring to book persons who were responsible for arbitrary arrests, death threats and arson of offices and homes of human rights and political activists.

It says that between 2011 and 2012 human rights defenders in Malawi came under serious attack by the then ruling DPP leadership.

Some of those attacked as indicated in the petition include the accused Cashgate and murder suspect Raphael Kasambara, activists Billy Mayaya, Habiba Osman and Ben Chiza Mkandawire as well as consumer rights activist John Kapito.

The petition also mentions the current Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development politician Atupele Muluzi who was arrested by the then regime for advocating for human rights and good governance in Malawi.

It also mentions some of activists that were threatened with death, including Undule Mwakasungura, Jessie Kabwila.

Rafiq Hajat, of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) had their offices burnt down, the same with Rev MacDonald Sembereka who had his house in Balaka also burnt down. The petition also mentions vehicles for Zodiak Broadcasting Station in Lilongwe which were burnt down by what were generally believed to be government operatives.

The petition informs the UN body that it is a serious concern that up to date the government has not shown any commitment to investigate and bring to book the perpetrators of such undemocratic acts.

“The human rights defenders are still working fear that history may repeat itself considering the fact that these cases have not been resolved,” it claims.

The OHCHR Human Rights Officer Noko and her colleague, Tsatsu Dawson, acknowledged receipt of the petition and said they will make follow ups.

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