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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

In Malawi, LGBT rights activists 'in hiding'

Mwakasungula (left), Trapence (right)
By Paul Canning

UPDATE, 27 July: We have received a report that Mwakasungula is not in hiding and that no actual warrants have been issued. However is is quoted in today's New York Times that he is in hiding and that his lawyer has informed him that charges are being prepared. We also understand Trapence and other NGO leaders have received death threats.

Malawi's two leading LGBT human rights advocates are reportedly in hiding after being threatened with arrest for 'treason'.

Undule Mwakasungula, Human Rights Consultative Commitee (HRCC) chairperson, and executive director of Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), Gift Trapence, are part of a group of NGO leaders driven underground in the wake of last week's protests against the government of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Mutharika, naming NGO leaders, has said:
"I will also hunt you in your homes. You will not hide, I will smoke you out, muziwanso. You should go back to your fathers and mothers from the West, who have sent you."
According to South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC):
"[Gift] is in good spirits. He notes that he and the other are safe where they are now. He says the best thing we can do is to mobilize international partners to pressurize the government to reconsider the arrest warrants and to ensure their safety."
They say that he has been visited by the American ambassador to Malawi, Peter Bodde.

The two leaders are the strongest advocates for LGBT human rights in Malawi and have long been targeted by the government. The government has blamed withdrawals of foreign aid on them personally. In March after Mwakasungula and Trapence delivered a petition to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, on behalf of Malawian civil society, President Mutharika said:.
"As I speak now there are a group of 15 human rights activists who are roaming in Europe saying there are human rights abuses in Malawi because we are not allowing them to teach revolution."
Last week's protests against a deteriorating economy resulted in 18 deaths and drew widespread condemnation. Malawi's government and media labeled the opposition protests a "gay rights rally". Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) bulletins said that organisers of the demonstrations wanted to use photographs of demonstrators to show to foreign aid donors that Malawians support gay rights and same-sex marriages. A presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba said that organisers of the demonstrations have been receiving “huge” sums of money from gay rights bodies outside the country. 

Mutharika has encouraged his supporters to violence. During the protests Mwakasungula was beaten and Trapence arrested then released. According to a witness, reporter Kondwani Munthali: "[Police] want “Undule” and they take turns beating him, one after another whipping him with gun butts."

TAC say that Trapence is "one of the few Malawians to publicly stand up for the rights of not only the LGBTI community but also sex workers. He is one of the only researchers to conduct researchers into the HIV and health needs of both these groups."

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