The Malawian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release five activists being held in connection with a peaceful protest in the capital Lilongwe on Friday, Amnesty International said today.
The five have been charged with holding an illegal demonstration outside the Malawian parliament. Police allege the activists did not obtain permission for the protest, as required under the Police Act.
“The Malawian authorities have no basis for holding these activists, who appear to have been arrested solely for exercising their right to peaceful protest,” said Erwin Van Der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director.
“We consider the detainees to be prisoners of conscience, and as such they must be released unconditionally and without delay.”
The detained activists include Billy Mayaya, of the CCAP Nkhoma Synod, and Habiba Osman, a lawyer with the development NGO Norwegian Church Aid, as well as Brian Nyasulu, Ben Chiza Mkandawire and Comfort Chitseko.
All five are being held at police stations in Lilongwe.
There are concerns that Brian Nyasulu has been denied access to medical treatment for diabetes while in detention.
The activists were arrested on Friday after taking part in a small demonstration urging President Bingu wa Mutharika to hold a referendum calling for an early election.
They also demanded the resignation of Police Inspector General Peter Mukhita, and called for an investigation into his alleged involvement in the death of student activist Robert Chasowa last month.
In recent months, the Malawian government has taken an increasingly intolerant stance toward demonstrations.
In July, at least 18 people were killed and scores of others injured when police opened fire on anti-government protesters in a number of Malawian cities.
Since then, several Malawian human rights activists have received death threats and have been forced to go into hiding.
In September, petrol bomb attacks targeted the homes or offices of several government critics, including opposition politician Salim Bagus and activists Rafiq Hajat and Rev Macdonald Sembereka.
“Since the 20 July protests, we have seen increased intolerance of dissent in Malawi, with most human rights defenders living in fear of arrests or attacks by members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party,” said Erwin Van Der Borght.
“This climate of fear must come to an end and Malawi’s authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.”