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Press briefing notes on Malawi

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 25 January 2019

1) Malawi

We are very concerned about an increase in political violence in Malawi, violence against women and attacks against persons with albinism, as Malawi heads towards elections in May 2019.

On 10 January, a Malawian Member of Parliament, Bon Kalindo, was arrested for insulting the President as well as for disorderly conduct. Following his release on bail, on 16 January, Mr Kalindo was violently assaulted, allegedly by members of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth wing – commonly referred to as cadets – on the premises of the District Commissioner in the southern town of Mulanje, and required hospital treatment. 

Last Sunday (20 January) Edward Govati, a supporter of another opposition party, Malawi Congress, was savagely attacked in Blantyre, also reportedly by DPP cadets.  He was extremely badly beaten and also required hospital treatment. Mr Govati had previously been threatened because of his political activities. 

The same day a male and female supporter of a third opposition party, the United Transformation Movement (UTM), were assaulted -- once again allegedly by DPP cadets – while they were on their way to a rally in the district of Mangochi. They were forced to take off their UTM T-shirts, leaving the woman in her underwear and the man half-naked.  The man was also reportedly beaten with a beer bottle.

Political violence had already been on the increase during the 2018 primary elections, where women candidates in particular faced threats, harassment and intimidation.  Women voters were also caught up in violence that erupted in some voting centres. We welcome the fact that, on 23 January, President Peter Arthur Mutharika condemned political violence, including acts aimed at humiliating women in the political arena. However, we are concerned that so far no one has been brought to justice for any of the series of politically motivated attacks that have been taking place since last year.

Attacks on persons with albinism have also increased in the run up to the elections. Recent incidents include the gruesome killing of Yasin Phiri, a 55-year-old man with albinism, in Nkhata Bay in northern Malawi, on 31 December. Mr. Phiri was repeatedly stabbed in front of his child, before being dragged outside his house, where both his arms were hacked off.  And just three days ago, on 22 January, a one-year-old baby with albinism was reportedly abducted from her home in Karonga and remains missing. We call on the authorities to step up their efforts to protect persons with albinism, and to prosecute and punish alleged perpetrators.