Malawi civil rights leaders up in ‘smoke’

President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi

Lilongwe. Barely four weeks after President Bingu wa Mutharika publicly declared war on his critics and a week after the Institute of Policy Interaction (IPI) offices of renowned civil rights activist Rafik Hajat were set on fire in the commercial city of Blantyre, unknown thugs petro bombed the house belonging to another civil rights leader Rev. MacDonald Sembereka in the early hours of Sunday. Police say they are still investigating the two incidents. According to a relative to Reverend Sembereka, Ali Mwachande, an unknown person came to the reverend’s eastern region house on Saturday to enquire and confirm if the house indeed belonged to the outspoken activist saying he had been ordered to bring burnt bricks to be used to fence the house. But Sembereka says he did not order any body to take bricks to the house and wondered whether the person was a bona fide resident of eastern region Balaka Township for him to ask for the location of the house. Sembereka says the fire had gutted down property worth close to US$18, 000 including that belonging to his office and in- law.

Balaka Town police publicist Titani Chadwala said police found a container at the house believed to have been used as a petro bomb. Rev. Sembereka was not committal to connect the incident to president Mutharika’s speech to “set the country on fire” and “smoke out” his critics but however said he could not rule it out either. “You remember in March the president ordered his Youth Cadets to deal with his so called detractors and recently he threatened to smoke us out,” he said. The Reverend however said the incident will not detour him from “fighting for a better Malawi”. He said, “It is folly to target me as an individual because the cause I am fighting for is the cause of Malawians.” Last week chairperson for IPI Dr. Nandini Patel wrote a statement condemning the attack on the IPI offices saying, calling the act ‘barbaric’ and targeted at people “for fearlessly standing up for democracy”. Meanwhile, Voice Mhone chairperson of the civil society dialogue committee that has brought the government to a dialogue table under the tutelage of the United Nations has warned that such acts as experienced by Hajat and Sembereka could derail the dialogue process and plunge the country into lawlessness.

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