The organisation, Ditshwanelo, also known as the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, which advocates for changes in laws, policies and practices and tries to raise public awareness of rights and responsibilities, said it had only recently been informed about the threats against Undule Mwakasungula, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHHR). Mwakasungula is also Chairperson for the Human Rights Consultative Committee in Malawi.
In February this year Ditshwanelo released a press statement in which it condemned the reported persecution of Malawi’s former Attorney General, Ralph Kasambara as well as the recent attacks on those viewed as government critics such as lawyers and human rights defenders.
According to Ditshwanelo, “Mwakasungula has previously made comments critical of the current Malawi government and as a result he has been subjected to threats by those who are allegedly instructed to silence any opposition to the government.
“The threats have been on-going for a period of time and have included such acts as planting Indian hemp on the premises of Mwakasungula’s CHHR office, in an attempt to get him arrested.”
Ditshwanelo reported that “The most recent threat occurred on Sunday, March 4, when Mwakasungula awoke to find a poster on the gate of his home advertising it as being ‘for sale’. He later found another poster at his CHHR office, advertising it as being ‘to let’. This poster included a picture of Mr Mwakasungula. The numbers on both the advertisements corresponded with those of the CHHR. This act could be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate Mr Mwakasungula. He is being made aware that whoever is responsible knows both where he lives and where he works.”
According to Ditshwanelo, “On the same day, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi gave a speech issuing a directive to his supporters to fight and silence all his critics. The President also suggested that his supporters should mobilise themselves to fight back, even when anti-government demonstrations are organised. This is the second time the President had encouraged violence by ordering the silencing of his critics. He continues to threaten and harass those from whom he does not have support.”
Mwakasungula, together with NGOs, journalists, politicians and other critics of the president, have been affected by these threats and are being targeted with violence and intimidation.
The Malawi government’s tactics include planting false evidence on critics so that they can be arrested and detained without trial.
In their statement, Ditshwanelo said they “strongly believe that this is an issue which needs to be addressed, as the government should not have the ability to silence those who oppose them. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right which ought to be respected.”
As a result, “Ditshwanelo calls upon the Government of Botswana, as a member of SADC, to raise the matter with the Government of Malawi.”
The organisation is urging the Government of Botswana to work together with other Governments in SADC (Southern African Development Community) to adhere to regional standards on human rights and good governance.