Malawi
Head of state and government
Joyce Banda (replaced Binguwa Mutharika in April)

Harassment and intimidation of government critics continued in the early part of the year. Following the swearing in of President Joyce Banda in April, the environment for civil and political rights rapidly improved. Commissions of enquiry into the deaths of 20 people during the July 2011 nationwide demonstrations and into the death of a student activist presented their findings. Several laws which threatened internationally guaranteed human rights were repealed.

Background

Following the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on 5 April, the then Vice-President Joyce Banda was sworn into office.

In May, President Banda asked the AU to withdraw an invitation to Sudan’s President al-Bashir, who has a warrant of arrest outstanding against him issued by the International Criminal Court, to an AU summit scheduled in the capital, Lilongwe, between 9 and 16 June. The AU rejected the request. Malawi subsequently declined to host the summit which was postponed and relocated to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. President Banda did not attend.

In recognition of reforms made by President Banda, several major donors resumed previously suspended aid, including the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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Legal developments

Several laws, which were enacted amid widespread criticism under President Mutharika, were repealed in May. They included Section 46 of the Penal Code which had allowed the Minister of Information arbitrary power to prohibit a publication “if the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the publication or importation of any publication would be contrary to the public interest”.

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Human rights defenders

On 13 February, Ralph Kasambara, a lawyer representing human rights activists and other dissenting voices, was arrested in Blantyre with his five security guards. The arrests followed an incident at his office in which Ralph Kasambara and his security team allegedly assaulted a group of men who were believed to have been sent to petrol bomb the premises. The previous day, Ralph Kasambara had been quoted in newspapers criticizing President Mutharika’s governance. Ralph Kasambara and the security team were detained and charged with kidnapping and unlawful wounding before being transferred to Chichiri Prison. On 15 February, hewas released and rearrested the same day. On 17 February, the High Court granted an injunction for his immediate release. He had still not been released when, on 17 February, he was transferred to hospital for medical treatment. He was granted police bail and released from police custody on 21 February. The case was not brought to court.

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Institutional developments

On 10 July the report of the commission of enquiry into the July 2011 demonstrations which resulted in 20 deaths was made public. It found that police had used excessive force and that the live ammunition had caused deaths and injuries which could have been avoided. The President requested advice from the Attorney General on whether the findings constituted grounds for criminal prosecutions.

In April a commission of enquiry into the death of student activist Robert Chasowa, whose body was found on 24 September 2011, was appointed by President Banda. It found that the student had been unlawfully killed and that police had deliberately attempted to suppress the truth about the cause of death. Ten people were arrested and charged in connection with the death and granted bail by the High Court.

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Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

President Banda announced on 18 May that an urgent repeal of laws infringing human rights, including those criminalizing homosexuality, would be undertaken. While several legal reforms were made, laws criminalizing homosexuality remained in place.

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