The NGO Amendment Bill was passed into law and threatened to undermine the right to freedom of association. Police used excessive force against peaceful protesters. Journalists, activists and several other people faced arrest and prosecution for social media posts. Parliament rejected a motion to abolish the death penalty. The government took steps to contain a cholera outbreak.
Freedom of association
In March, parliament passed the draconian NGO Amendment Bill despite a 2018 court injunction against its being tabled on grounds it was inconsistent with international human rights standards. It contained provisions that threaten NGOs’ independence, existence and operations. They included a restrictive NGO definition which could exclude “non-public benefit organizations” or “mutual benefit organizations” such as federations, advocacy groups or research institutions from registering; the requirement of mandatory registration; excessive discretion granted to the official regulatory body with the authority to suspend, cancel and revoke registration; a prohibition on “electioneering and politicking” by NGOs; and disproportionate criminal sanctions against organizations and their leaders for non-compliance with the Act.
Excessive use of force
In March, police in the capital, Lilongwe, fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters marching against alleged government corruption. The demonstrators were led by Citizens Against Impunity and Corruption, a civil society group. In July, police again used tear gas against protesters in Lilongwe who were demonstrating against the high cost of living and the judiciary’s handling of corruption cases. They also arrested over 70 protesters, including eight human rights activists from the Human Rights Ambassadors, a civil society organization that had organized the protests.
Freedom of expression
The right to freedom of expression was increasingly threatened as a rise in cases of unlawful surveillance by police, including interception of people’s private conversations, resulted in arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and convictions. In April, police arrested investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe for publishing a story revealing alleged police corruption involving payments to a company owned by a businessman, himself accused of corruption. The story claimed the payments were for the procurement of police water cannons, worth millions of US dollars. Gregory Gondwe was released after several hours, without charge.
On 1 May, Chidawawa Mainje was arrested and charged with cyber harassment under section 86 of the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016 in connection with the accusation that he had insulted President Chakwera in a WhatsApp conversation.
In August, parliament rejected a Legal Affairs Committee report which supported proposals for the abolition of the death penalty. The committee had earlier indicated that its wide public consultations revealed more than 90% of Malawians supported abolition.
Right to health
On 3 March, the Ministry of Health declared a cholera outbreak following laboratory confirmation of a case in the country. The government, with the support of the WHO and UNICEF, implemented a National Cholera Response Plan to strengthen disease surveillance, provide medical treatment for patients, distribute laboratory supplies, monitor water quality, and promote health education and hygiene among affected and at-risk communities. Despite these efforts, the outbreak spread through most of the country to 26 of the 28 districts. As of 31 December, there were 17,448 confirmed cases and 576 deaths reported.