Pro-LGBTI rights activists in Malawi hiding after the government crackdown on dissent

Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), one of the few human rights organisations in Malawi working with vulnerable groups like MSM, prisoners and sex workers, has been forced underground.

He is one of eight Malawian human rights activists who have gone into hiding following threats by the country’s President, Bingu wa Mutharika to crackdown on activists who took to the streets, during the recent anti-government protests in Malawi.

CEDEP raised money to pay for the legal defence of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a same-sex couple arrested and charged with sodomy and indecency after their public engagement in late December 2009.

“About 708 organisations participated in the demonstrations, and the organising committee were the director of these organisations which is why they are being targeted and Gift is one of the directors targeted which is why he has gone into hiding and warrants of arrests have been issued. But for the rest of us at CEDEP, the situation is normal,” said Dunker Kamba, administrator at CEDEP.

Speaking to BTM from his hideout, Trapence said “Most of us activists are in hiding due to the fact that we really don’t know what is going to happen with the warrant of arrests”

He added, “We have received threats and even death threats, but I think the issue here is that the government is failing to implement the arrests because of the international pressure and the civil society which has threatened to take to the streets should there be any arrests.”

CEDEP is a registered human rights organisation dedicated to addressing the needs, improving the lives, and providing support for some of Malawi’s most neglected minority groups through civic education, training, capacity building, networking and research.

“This is a general human rights issue, and as CEDEP we are affected by all the issues that were raised in the petition, and what the government has done is to single out CEPED’s work, as we were part and parcel of the organising committee,” added Trapence.

Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on Thursday July 28, that protest leaders in Malawi said they would be coming out of hiding and would stage fresh demonstrations one week after 19 people were killed in a violent government crackdown.

President Bingu wa Mutharika has been condemned internationally for his response to the initially peaceful demonstrations and the US and UK have suspended aid to the country.

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