Human rights defenders and activists are calling for more efforts in ensuring that Malawians enjoy their freedoms and rights ahead of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) next month.
UPR is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states.
It provides an opportunity for all states to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights.
Malawi was last reviewed in 2015 where various recommendations including the protection of people with albinism, human rights defenders, journalists and the elderly were made.
But while commending the country for taking positive strides in the promotion of human, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has said Malawi still has a long way to go.
CHRR Acting Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa said Malawians still face difficulties in the enjoyment of various rights and freedoms such as digital rights as well as the right to privacy and the right to freedom of opinion and expression online.
Kaiyatsa also said for a long time now, Malawians have found it difficult to express themselves online.
“In April 2019, a Malawian citizen, Tumpale Mwakibinga, was arrested after he posted on his Facebook page a picture likening the then first lady Gertrude Mutharika to cartoon character. He was charged with insulting the modesty of a woman as well as violations under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016,” Kaiyatsa said.
He also cited a case of three opposition political party members who were arrested in February 2016 and charged with treason for allegedly plotting a coup through a WhatsApp conversation as one of the failures by the then administration to meet its own obligations of protecting Malawians’ right to express themselves online.
On his part, activist Undule Mwakasungula commended the Malawi government for taking the right steps in promoting the right of Malawians to access information.
“Yes there is more that needs to be done, but efforts by the current administration to operationalise the Access to Information law in the shortest time possible after being elected must be commended. Of course, we need to take more steps to ensure that rights of all people including sexual minorities are protected,” Mwakasungula said.
Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said the new administration is working hard to ensure the rights of all Malawians are respected and protected.
“From the onset, we have sent a very strong message that the new government is serious about the rights of all people including journalists, the elderly and human rights defenders. While I cannot speak for the previous administration, I can promise that under the Tonse Alliance watch no one will be penalised based on his or her professional work,” Kazako said.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.