Malawi govt critics targeted in petrol bomb attacks: Rights groups

16 Aug 2019 / 10:22 H.

BLANTYRE: Unknown assailants on Thursday hurled petrol bombs at the house of a leading Malawi human rights activist who is leading countrywide post-election protests, the latest in series of attacks targeting government critics since the contentious May vote.

Timothy Mtambo, chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition which has organised the protests, escaped unharmed after three petrol bombs were thrown into his property’s yard, one of which hit and torched his car.

The latest attack follows three similar ones on the largest opposition the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) offices and members.

Amnesty International condemned the “cowardly and malicious” attack on Mtambo as “a clear act of intimidation, designed to deter him from carrying out his human rights work”.

In July, the headquarters of the MCP was burnt after petrol bombs were thrown into the building.

Two weeks later, the house of the party’s youth leader Richard Chimwendo Banda suffered severe damage after it was also petrol bombed.

And two weeks ago, the office of the MCP vice president Sidik Mia suffered severe damage after it was petrol bombed.

Police said they were investigating the attacks.

“We are waiting for the investigators to conclude their work and if people are arrested, they will explain in court as to what motivated these attacks,“ spokesman James Kadadzera told AFP.

The rights body that has organised the protests suspect ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) operatives are behind the attacks.

“Our prime suspects are the DPP cadets because we have had so many cases where we have presented evidence of the cadets attacking citizens but the Police have taken no action,“ said its vice president Gift Trapence.

Malawian political scientist Michael Jana, who lectures at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, said the attacks were “to intimidate and silence the people”.

“It is very unfortunate because this is suppression of dissenting voices which should not be condoned in a democracy,“ he said.

Thousands of Malawians have taken to the streets of various cities in recent months to protest the results of the May 21 elections, in which President Peter Mutharika was declared winner with 38.67% of the vote.

The protesters have threatened a three-day shutdown of the country’s borders, including the airport, starting August 26.

The Constitutional Court is currently hearing a case brought by the opposition to have the election results annulled over irregularities. — AFP

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