Malawi: Judicial harassment of Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and Rvd. MacDonald Sembereka

Urgent Appeal

MWI 001 / 0320 / OBS 023
Smear campaign / Threats
Judicial harassment
March 18, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Malawi.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by Ditshwanelo – The Botswana Center for Human Rights about the smear campaign and the judicial harassment of Messrs. Timothy Mtambo, chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Gift Trapence, HRDC vice chairperson and leader of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), the country’s main LGBTQI rights organisation, and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, an Anglican priest, executive member of HRDC, activist for LGBTQI rights and leader of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC). The three have been active in strengthening democracy and good governance and challenging the legitimacy of the 2019 presidential elections in Malawi [1].

According to the information received, during a press conference on March 6, 2020, Messrs. Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka called for citizens to protest in front of State Houses, the residence of the President, on March 25, to urge President Mutharika to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bill, related to the conduct of the new presidential elections on May 19, which was approved by Parliament. On the occasion of a similar call to protest by HRDC members, President Mutharika had previously, on December 31, 2019, publicly referred to HRDC as a “terrorist organisation” [2] and pronounced death threats against HRDC.

On March 8, 2020, Messrs. Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested in Lilongwe following political instructions, taken into police custody in Area 3 police station, where they had access to their lawyers, and charged with “inciting another to contravene the law” (Section 124(1) of the Penal Code). They were transferred to Blantyre – around 300 kilometers away from Lilongwe- during the night, where they were kept in different police stations.

On March 9, 2020, the Office of the Inspector General of the Government of Malawi issued a press statement titled “Warrant of arrest against Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka” [3], mentioning that Mr. Timothy Mtambo was still “on the run” and that the Police was actively looking for him.

On March 10, 2020, Mr. Timothy Mtambo surrendered and was arrested under the same charges as Messrs. Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka. He spent the night at Area 3 police station in Lilongwe.

On March 11, 2020, the three defenders appeared before Lilongwe Magistrate Court and were taken to Lilongwe Maula prison after their hearing, in which they pleaded not guilty and a bail application was made. On March 12, they were released on bail pending future hearings, on the basis of a decision of the Magistrate Court issued on the same day.

The Observatory firmly condemns the attacks against the three defenders, which appear to be only aimed at punishing them for the exercise of their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.

The Observatory calls on the authorities of Malawi to immediately and unconditionally put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them.

Actions requested:  
Please write to the authorities in Malawi, urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Messrs. Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka, as well as all the human rights defenders in Malawi;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence, MacDonald Sembereka as well as all other human rights defenders in Malawi and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Carry out a transparent, impartial, immediate and thorough investigation into the above-mentioned alleged attack on Mr. Timothy Mtambo physical integrity, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, sanction them as provided by the law and provide the victim with effective remedies;

iv. Conform to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Malawi.


• H.E. Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi, Phone: +2651789311 / +2651789 411, Twitter: @APMutharika @MalawiGovt
• Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phone: +265 1 789 088 / 323 / 115; Fax: +265 1 788 482
• Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Phone: +265 1 788 411; Fax: +265 1 788 332; Email:
• Mr. Pacharo Kayira, Head of the Human Rights Unit, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Phone: +265 888 87 99 84; Email:
• Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, E-mail:, Phone: +265 1789 177
• H.E. Robert Dufter Salama, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malawi in Geneva, Switzerland, Phone: +41 22 730 17 50; Fax: +41 22 730 17 53; Email:
• H.E. Perks Clemency Ligoya, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malawi in New York, United States, Phone: (212) 317-8738, Fax: (212) 317-8729, Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Malawi located in your country.

Paris-Geneva, March 18, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail:
• Tel: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] The Supreme Court of Appeal recently dismissed an appeal against the Constitutional Court ruling which nullified the May 2, 2019 presidential elections. New elections are to be held on May 19, 2020.
[2] See: or
[3] See:

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