Rights group, Amnesty International, has demanded the release of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders and has asked President Peter Mutharika to stop threatening activists.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, issued he demand in a statement on Monday.
He said the arrest of Gift Trapence and Reverend McDonald Sembereka is a crackdown on dissent ahead of the general election rerun on 19 May.
“The arrests of Gift Trapence and Reverend McDonald Sembereka are deeply troubling, coming amidst the highly charged political environment ahead of the election rerun. Many human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, including by President Arthur Mutharika,” said Muchena.
“Malawi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the detained activists. The authorities must stop threatening, harassing and intimidating human rights defenders and allow them to freely exercise their rights.”
Trapence and Sembereka were arrested in Lilongwe on 8 March for threatening to march to the State House.
The police also issued an arrest warrant against HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo.
The activists have been leading national protests against last year’s election, which was subsequently nullified by the court.
Muchena noted that the three men have been targeted for mobilising people to protest against the election.
He said Mtambo narrowly escaped harm in August 2019 after three petrol bombs were thrown into his compound. One hit and torched his car, while the second was thrown at the gate and the third narrowly missed his house.
“The latest arrests are part of a well-orchestrated campaign aimed at intimidating and harassing activists. It sends the chilling message that they will be punished for exercising their human rights,” said Muchena.
Last week, the HRDC called on President Mutharika to assent to the new electoral reforms bills passed in parliament on the conduct of elections.
The coalition threatened to march to the State House on 25 March if President Mutharika continued to delay assenting to the legislation.
On Sunday, President Mutharika warned Mtambo and his leadership team at the HRDC that they would be dealt with if they marched to the State House.
The president mentioned Mtambo, Trapence and Sembereka by their names. He also ordered the Malawi Army to use necessary force to stop the grouping from marching to State House.