In a report released on Wednesday, HRWÃ¢â‚¬â€a worldwide human rights watchdogÃ¢â‚¬â€ mentions the clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly, threats to journalists and civil society activists and muzzling of a free press as among the worrying trends of the year.
But Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati, the official government spokesperson, argued Malawi is doing well on human rights.
But one of the local human rights activists, MacDonald Sembereka, has urged government not to treat the issues in the report as business as usual, but act on them to reverse the trend.
The Human Rights 2011 Report also observes that fuel and foreign currency shortages and increasing food prices have taken a toll on the country, reversing the economic gains made during MutharikaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first-term in office.
Reads the report, in part: “The human rights situation in Malawi deteriorated significantly in 2011, with President Bingu wa MutharikaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s government acting in an increasingly repressive manner.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The report says in 2011, Mutharika signed repressive new laws, including Section 46 of the Penal Code which allows the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed “contrary to the public interest.”
The report also says in the year, authorities intimidated and harassed university lecturers and students who have been at the forefront of criticising the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s poor human rights and governance records.
The world body also expressed concern about the way Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa was found dead on campus and Inspector General of Police Peter MukhitoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interrogating of University of Malawi (Unima) lecturer Blessings Chinsinga which resulted in a boycott of classes by staff demanding an apology from Mukhito and respect of academic freedom.
“The government has also shown increasing intolerance towards peaceful demonstrations. The most brutal crackdown on a peaceful demonstration took place on July 20 when police fired live ammunition and tear gas at unarmed demonstrators and bystanders, killing 19 and leaving scores more wounded,” says the report.
But Kaliati said: “We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t agree with what the report is saying. We are trying our best and we believe that the leadership is on the right track. On demonstrations, governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s priority is to protect lives.”
On free press, she said it is surprising her office has not received any complaints from the cited cases of journalists.
Sembereka said the observations in the report are not good, especially in this era when the country should have been seeing an improvement in human rights.