Amnesty International warned on Monday that Malawian authorities have mounted a crackdown on dissent ahead of the general election rerun on 19 May.
Both have been in police custody since Sunday after they were arrested in Lilongwe on 8 March for threatening to march to the State House.
An arrest warrant has been issued against a third activist, Timothy Mtambo. The activists are linked with a local Non-Governmental Organization, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).
“The arrests of Gift Trapence and Reverend McDonald Sembereka are deeply troubling, coming amidst the highly charged political environment ahead of the election rerun. Many human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, including by President Arthur Mutharika,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Malawi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the detained activists. The authorities must stop threatening, harassing and intimidating human rights defenders and allow them to freely exercise their rights.”
Amnesty said the activists have been leading national protests against last year’s election, which was subsequently nullified by the court. The country is now headed for another vote on 19 May, following a court order.
Amnesty said the three men have been targeted for mobilising people to protest against the election. In August 2019, Timothy Mtambo narrowly escaped harm after three petrol bombs were thrown into his compound. One hit and torched his car, while the second was thrown at the gate and the third narrowly missed his house.
“The latest arrests are part of a well-orchestrated campaign aimed at intimidating and harassing activists. It sends the chilling message that they will be punished for exercising their human rights,” said Deprose Muchena.