Malawi - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI

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Head of state and government: Bingu wa Mutharika
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: ratified

Nearly a million people needed food aid in 2006. Freedom of expression continued to be threatened, with a number of media workers charged with criminal libel. Torture and ill-treatment by police and life-threatening prison conditions were reported.

Background

Moves to impeach the President were formally ended in January. The Vice-President, Cassim Chilumpa, a member of the President's former party, the United Democratic Front, was arrested for treason in April and remained under house arrest at the end of 2006.

Former President Bakili Muluzi was briefly detained in July on allegations of corruption. On the same day the director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau was suspended by the President for allegedly not following appropriate procedures when he ordered the arrest of the former President. The charges against Bakili Muluzi were withdrawn.

Poverty

Malawi's recovery from a devastating drought in 2005 brought some relief to the rural poor. However, more than 900,000 people remained reliant on food aid - a drop from 4.8 million people in need of food aid in 2005. Production on small-scale farms was also affected by the high incidence of HIV and AIDS. Approximately 14 per cent of the population has contracted the virus.

Press freedom

Freedom of expression continued to be threatened, particularly in the first half of the year, when the government brought charges of criminal libel against a number of media workers.

• In May, Robert Jamieson, editor-in-chief of the Chronicle newspaper, sub-editor Dickson Kashoti and reporter Arnold Mlelemba were arrested on criminal libel charges for alleging that Malawi's former Attorney General was implicated in the sale of a stolen laptop. The three were provisionally released.

• Jika Nkolokosa, general manager of Blantyre Newspapers Limited, and Maxwell Ng'ambi, a journalist, were charged with criminal libel for reporting that the Minister of Health was implicated in improper accounting. The charges against Jika Nkolokosa were dropped but Maxwell Ng'ambi was convicted and fined.

Policing

Torture and ill-treatment of suspects in custody remained a major concern. In June the Malawi Human Rights Commission raised concerns about abuse and torture at Lilongwe, Kawale, Lingadzi and Kanengo Police Stations.

• Miyonda Mundiwa, a suspected car thief, had his leg cut when police officers hit him with a machete during questioning at Lilongwe Police Station in April.

Prisons

Large numbers of prisoners died in custody. More than 280 deaths were recorded, an average of 23 prisoners per month per 10,000 prisoners. This was a sharp increase from 14 deaths per month recorded in 2005. Most of the deaths were linked to inadequate diet.