Urgent Interventions

Smear campaign and judicial harassment of three members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition


MWI 001 / 0320 / OBS 023
Smear campaign / Threats

Judicial harassment

March 18, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership ofFIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Malawi.

Description of thesituation:

The Observatory has beeninformed by Ditshwanelo – The Botswana Center for Human Rights about the smearcampaign and the judicial harassment of Messrs. Timothy Mtambo,chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Gift Trapence,HRDC vice chairperson and leader of the Centre for the Development of People(CEDEP), the country’s main LGBTQI rights organisation, and Reverend MacDonaldSembereka, an Anglican priest, executive member of HRDC, activist forLGBTQI rights and leader of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC). Thethree have been active in strengthening democracy and good governance andchallenging the legitimacy of the 2019 presidential elections in Malawi[1].

According to theinformation received, during a press conference on March 6, 2020, Messrs.Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka called for citizens toprotest in front of State Houses, the residence of the President, on March 25,to urge President Mutharika to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bill, related tothe conduct of the new presidential elections on May 19, which was approved byParliament. On the occasion of a similar call to protest by HRDC members,President Mutharika had previously, on December 31, 2019, publicly referred toHRDC as a “terrorist organisation”[2]and pronounced death threats against HRDC.

On March 8, 2020, Messrs.Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested in Lilongwe followingpolitical instructions, taken into police custody in Area 3 police station,where they had access to their lawyers, and charged with “inciting another tocontravene the law” (Section 124(1) of the Penal Code). They were transferredto Blantyre – around 300 kilometers away from Lilongwe- during the night, wherethey were kept in different police stations.

On March 9, 2020, theOffice of the Inspector General of the Government of Malawi issued a pressstatement titled “Warrant of arrest against Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence andReverend MacDonald Sembereka”[3],mentioning that Mr. Timothy Mtambo was still “on the run” and that the Policewas actively looking for him.

On March 10, 2020, Mr.Timothy Mtambo surrendered and was arrested under the same charges as Messrs.Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka. He spent the night at Area 3 policestation in Lilongwe.

On March 11, 2020, thethree defenders appeared before Lilongwe Magistrate Court and were taken toLilongwe Maula prison after their hearing, in which they pleaded not guilty anda bail application was made. On March 12, they were released on bail pending futurehearings, on the basis of a decision of the Magistrate Court issued on the sameday.

The Observatory firmlycondemns the attacks against the three defenders, which appear to be only aimedat punishing them for the exercise of their legitimate and peaceful humanrights activities.

The Observatory calls onthe authorities of Malawi to immediately and unconditionally put an end to anyact of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them.


Please write to the authoritiesin Malawi, urging them to:

i.Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychologicalwell-being of Messrs. Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka, aswell as all the human rights defenders in Malawi;

ii. Put an end to all acts ofharassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Timothy Mtambo,Gift Trapence, MacDonald Sembereka as well as all other human rights defendersin Malawi and ensure that they are able to carry out their activitieswithout hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Carry out a transparent, impartial, immediate andthorough investigation into the above-mentioned alleged attack on Mr. TimothyMtambo physical integrity, in order to identify all those responsible, bringthem before an independent tribunal, sanction them as provided by the law andprovide the victim with effective remedies;

iv. Conform to the provisionsof the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 bythe United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

v. Ensure in all circumstancesrespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance withinternational human rights instruments ratified by Malawi.


· H.E. Peter Mutharika,President of Malawi, Phone: +2651789311 / +2651789 411, Twitter: @APMutharika@MalawiGovt

· Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phone: +265 1 789088 / 323 / 115; Fax: +265 1 788 482

· Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Phone: +265 1 788 411; Fax:+265 1 788 332; Email:

· Mr. Pacharo Kayira, Headof the Human Rights Unit, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs,Phone: +265 888 87 99 84; Email:

· Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, E-mail:,Phone: +265 1789 177

· H.E. Robert DufterSalama, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malawi in Geneva, Switzerland,Phone: +41 22 730 17 50; Fax: +41 22 730 17 53;

· H.E. Perks ClemencyLigoya, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malawi in New York, UnitedStates, Phone: (212) 317-8738, Fax: (212) 317-8729, Email:

Please also write to thediplomatic mission or embassy of Malawi located in your country.


Paris-Geneva, March 18, 2020

Kindly inform us of any actionundertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) wascreated in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). Theobjective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repressionagainst human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, theEuropean Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by internationalcivil society.

To contact the Observatory,call the emergency line:

• E-mail:

• Tel: + 33 (0) 1 43 5525 18

• Tel and fax OMCT + 41(0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] The Supreme Court of Appeal recently dismissed anappeal against the Constitutional Court ruling which nullified the May 2, 2019presidential elections. New elections are to be held on May 19, 2020.

[2] See: or

[3] See: