Malawi detains rights campaigners, activists decry arrests

Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka
Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka with Timothy Mtambo

Police in Malawi have detained two Malawian rights activists who helped organise recent protests over the recent re-election of Peter Mutharika, AFP news agency and local media are reporting.

Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka are being held over allegations of fraud and stealing money from Aids programmes, AFP quotes police spokesman James Kadadzera as saying.

“What I can confirm is that they we have a complainant in the form of UNAids who came to lodge a grievance with the police,” Mr Kadadzera told AFP.

“While I do not have the actual figures, I can confirm that the money runs into millions of Malawi kwachas.”

Mr Trapence is vice chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Rev Sembereka is a member of the group, which has been behind a series of demonstrations over how the presidential elections in May were run.

Mr Mutharika, who first became president in 2014, was narrowly elected to a second term in office with 38.5% of the vote. But the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) said there had been vote-rigging.

Ploy to Silence Opposing voices

The two say their arrest is a ploy by government to silence them.

Mr Trapence and Rev Sembereka are key leaders of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition which has been organising demonstrations demanding electoral justice.

They believe the Malawi Electoral Commission mismanaged last May’s polls and want its head, Jane Ansah to step down or be fired.

They were due to hold a press conference on Wednesday to announce next course of action in view of Ms Ansah still being in the job after the latest round of protests last Friday.

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