At least two people have reportedly been shot dead by security forces as widespread riots erupted across Malawi amid protests over fuel shortages and repressive laws recently passed by parliament.
Hundreds of angry youths clashed with police in the capital and in towns across the country. The army was reportedly deployed to quell the riots, according to church leaders Amnesty International spoke to.
"Where people are killed or seriously injured as a result of police action the authorities must ensure there is a prompt, independent and thorough investigation," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa.
The reported killings took place in the northern town of Mzuzu.
Eye witnesses also reported seeing eight people injured with gun shot wounds in Mzuzu, including a young man shot through the stomach.
Rioters also reportedly set the Mzuzu offices of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party on fire.
Police reportedly fired teargas at a Lilongwe hospital, forcing the hospital to shut down.
"While police must take all necessary steps to protect the right to life, firing tear gas into a hospital, affecting patients unable to flee from the gas, is unacceptable," Erwin van der Borght said.
At least three journalists have been severely beaten by police.
Journalist Rebekah Chijeka from Joy radio station was beaten by police outside Lilongwe Town Hall. Eyewitnesses reported blood coming out of her ear. Another journalist, George Thawe, has been injured after police beat him using a gun butt. Lilongwe-based journalist Kondwani Munthali was also beaten by police, after they confiscated his camera.
"The deliberate targeting of journalists by Malawian police forces is deeply alarming. Media workers must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and have a key role to play in facilitating the right of everyone to information about current events in Malawi", said Erwin van der Borght.
"The police must allow journalists to carry out their work freely and the Malawian authorities must immediately launch an independent inquiry into these attacks," he added.
The protesters include a wide swathe of civil society activists encompassing students, human rights groups and religious organizations.
However, youths who are not formally part of the protest movement, have looted banks and several shops and businesses in Lilongwe and set fire to four houses belonging to police officers in the township of Mchesi, outside the capital.
On Tuesday, youths from President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) drove around the economic capital Blantyre in party vehicles, wielding machetes and intimidating people intending to participate in today’s demonstrations.
Since June, Malawi has faced a severe fuel shortage, one of a recurrent number of crippling shortages since 2009.
Under UN policing standards, security forces must not use firearms against persons except in defence against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent crimes involving grave threat to life, and only when less extreme means are insufficient. Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.