|Mwakasungula (left), Trapence (right)|
UPDATE, 25 July: Undule Mwakasungula and Gift Trapence are amongst other civil society leaders reported to be in hiding or to have fled Malawi. President Mutharika: "I will smoke you out."
Last week the British government announced that it was withdrawing budget support from the Malawian government. The move followed a diplomatic spat but the UK Foreign Office (FCO) blamed Malawi's increasing authoritarianism for their decision.
Germany, Denmark and other countries have cut their aid to Malawi citing a poor governance record.
Malawi has form on blaming LGBT for aid withdrawals, and some governments and bodies have cited concerns on LGBT rights in their consideration of aid to the country - but they have never been more than a footnote to the same sorts of issues cited by the FCO.
Now Malawi's government and media has labeled an opposition protest a "gay rights rally". It banned today's protest against the state of the economy, which resulted in riots and at least one death. Yesterday, ruling party supporters, who have been encouraged to violence by President Bingu wa Mutharika, threatened anyone who would dare join the protests and attacked two independent radio stations.
Of the two civil society leaders who have been most outspoken in support of LGBT human rights who took part in the protests, Undule Mwakasungula Human Rights Consultative Commitee (HRCC) chairperson was beaten and and executive director of Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) Gift Trapence arrested then released.
Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality said:
“Once again we see that an increasingly authoritarian government is trying to deflect attention away from legitimate public grievances and economic hardships by blaming the protests on gay rights supporters. The protests today were not about gay rights, they were about good governance and human rights for all citizens.”It was the state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) that labeled today's anti-government protests as "gay" 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. The MBC bulletins have been saying organisers of the demonstrations want to use photographs of demonstrators to show to donors that Malawians support gay rights and same-sex marriages. An opposition MP joined in the gay bashing by saying that although it was using gays as a scapegoat to deflect attention from mismanagement, the ruling party was 'infested' by gay people.
In April the MBC broadcast an editorial comment, read by the station’s news analyst Mzati Mkolokosa, saying that the MBC called on Malawians to 'fight against such activists' saying they are 'not patriotic'.
“They don’t know how much our forefathers suffered to get ourselves decolonized. We are not yet free up to date, yet someone wants to sell us back to the colonialists. Perhaps they haven’t studied global politics and need to be decolonized themselves. But let’s fight against them before they succeed in handing us over to the colonialists,” MBC said.Trapence says that more than 20 organisations from all 3 regions organised the July 20 demonstrations. The organisations said at a press conference that allegations from government that the nationwide demonstrations are actually for gay rights to impress western donors were "cheap propaganda".
“President Mutharika will retire in three years and is working hard to protect his image by creating a fertile ground for his brother Peter Mutharika to stand in the next elections,” says Simekinala Kaluzi of Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) Malawi.
“He will not tolerate any critical voices and wants the media and civil society to only say good things about him and his Government," Kaluzi added. "Since his re-election in 2009 we have seen a serious shrinking of space for freedom of expression and association.”President Mutharika does have some Western support. The American Christian conservative group Family Research Council (FRC) has asked supporters to pray for Malawi's laws criminalizing gay sex, RightWingWatch.com reported.
- Images from the protests