Category: Defenders

Blog entry for the about page

Uganda: We call on the authorities to respect human rights and uphold the Constitution ahead of the January 2021 elections and beyond.

  1. We are deeply alarmed by the rapid shrinking of civic, democratic, and civil society space in Uganda ahead of the January 2021 elections.
  1. We call on the authorities in Uganda to exercise self-restrain, respect human life and uphold its own constitution, as well as observe its regional and international obligations as mandated under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  1. The arbitrary arrest of Advocate Nicholas Opiyo and other frontline human rights defenders on December 23; reports of deadly violence against journalists and members of the opposition such as Hon. Kyagulanyi who has allegedly been recently arrested in Kalangala and whisked away by Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces soldiers. These in some  instances seem to be acts of targeted assassinations; and the continued harassment of opposition political leaders does not bode well for a democratic society.
  1. Should Uganda continue on its current trajectory, it risks permanently sliding into an outpost of tyranny, and a de facto one-party state.
  1. The Ugandan government must immediately refrain from harassing civil society organizations and members of opposition parties, their leaders and supporters and ensure the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are guaranteed during this crucial pre-election period and beyond.
  1. The government must also independently and thoroughly investigate all cases of pre-election violence, including the deadly shootings of journalists and opposition party members, as well as the excessive use of force against unarmed civilians by state security agents, which have thus far resulted in multiple losses of life and severe injuries.
  1. We encourage the Uganda Electoral Commission to be a neutral referee and ensure that the playing field is even, and those advocating for and executing a terror campaign against the opposition parties and ordinary citizens exercising their constitutional rights to participate in the electoral process, must be held accountable.
  1. The hallmark of a democratic society is inter alia conduct of a credible, free and fair election characterized by procedural certainty and outcome uncertainty, that is the election results should not be predetermined.
  1. Finally, we strongly urge the regional bodies, including the Africa Union and East African Community to urgently intervene to address the deteriorating political situation in Uganda. Failure to act at this juncture, risks not only the lives of many more Ugandans, but undermines the collective stability of the region.

ISSUED BY SOUTHERN AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK AND PAN AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK AND ENDORSED BY THE FOLLOWING ORGANISATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS:

Organisations

  • Abahlali Basemjoldolo Movement – South Africa
  • Amalgamated Rural Teacher Union of Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe
  • Center for Democracy and Development- Mozambique
  • Chapter One Foundation – Zambia
  • DITSHWANELO- The Botswana Center for Human Rights- Botswana
  • Human Rights Institute of South Africa – South Africa
  • Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network – Mozambique
  • Panos Institute Southern Africa – South Africa
  • Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa – South Africa
  • Zambia Council for Social Development – Zambia
  • Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum – Zimbabwe
  • Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights- Zimbabwe

Individuals

  • Alice Mogwe
  • Adriano Nuvunga
  • Arnold Tsunga
  • Corlett Letlojane
  • Charles Chimedza
  • Constance Mukarati
  • Muzi Masuku
  • Makanatsa Makonese.
  • Mary Pias Da Silva
  • Norman Tjombe
  • Nikiwe Kaunda
  • Tatenda Mazarura
  • Washington Katema

THE KILLING OF SOMKHELE ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, FIKILE NTSHANGASE

23 October 2020

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.

Tragically, grandmother Fikile Ntshangase’s words became a reality when she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba, on the evening of 22 October 2020.

Mama Ntshangashe was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”). MCEJO has been challenging the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. One of the court cases brought by MCEJO is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court of Appeal on 3 November 2020.

On Thursday, 22 October 2020 at about 18:30, four gunmen arrived at Mam Nsthangase’s house, where she lives with her 11 year old grandson. Current reports say that they forced themselves into the home and shot her 5 times, and that she died on the scene.

Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele. (Photgraphs and video footage available.)

Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and MCEJO’s opposition to that expansion.

Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Nsthangase refused to sign.

She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MJECO and that the “agreement” only benefited Tendele. She  also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had promised her a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature.

The court challenge that placed a price on Mama Ntshangase’s life is MJECO’s pending review application of Tendele’s new mining right in respect of a 222km2 area in Mpukunyoni, KZN. This review is due to be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in March 2021.

Tendele has publicly characterised MCEJO’s legal challenge as a threat to the mine’s continued existence, stating that, with the current mining area depleted, it needed to expand its mining area, or face closure.

The expansion requires relocation of 19 families from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

Tendele cannot commence any operations in the new mining right area until these families agree to Tendele’s “compensation” offer and sign relocation agreements. These families were subjected to months of violence and intimidation. Despite the clear volatility of the situation, Tendele has accused these families of “holding the Mine, its … employees and many families who have signed [relocation] agreements and indeed the entire community to ransom”. Tendele carried out its pressure campaign even while these families were receiving anonymous death-threats and gunmen opened fire on one of the families’ homes.

In May 2020, Tendele tried to bring an urgent court application to force the families to accept their compensation offer, but abruptly removed the matter from the Court roll when the families opposed the application.    

Tendele has now embarked upon a campaign to pit the State, the Ingonyama Trust Board, traditional leaders and fellow community members against these families to pressure them into signing relocation agreements. Tendele requested the MEC for Transport, Community Safety & Liaison KZN, Minister Ntuli and department officials to set up a “task team”, with the aim of “the two court cases opened by MJECO against the mine remain a threat and needs [sic] to be withdrawn”.

It is against this backdrop that the pro-mining campaign was stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, two sub-committee members, accompanied by two known hitmen, tried to disrupt a MCEJO executive committee meeting with community leaders, which included Mama Ntshangase. One sub-committee member tried to lock the doors, and a prominent leader was assaulted. A criminal case is being opened. This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he is seen in the vicinity.

Billy Mnqondo, a founding member of MCEJO, reports that one of the hitman kept saying “kuzochitheka igazi” (there will be bloodshed). His appeal to the police is: “Make sure that the criminals who murdered our comrade are caught and go to jail. Mam Ntshangase was killed for standing up for what is right. This is wrong and cannot go unpunished.”     

It appears that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu-Natal government. In July, the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member, apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms), to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine.

Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama King Goodwill Zwelithini about their struggle, they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and COGTA. This is the self-same government that claims to be a custodian for land reform to redress the land imbalance – while wilfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist.

For the State and Traditional Authorities actively to assist Tendele in its efforts to bring about MJECO’s withdrawal of its review application is abhorrent to our Constitutional order. Without access to Court, local communities’ right to dignity and section 24 environmental rights are illusory.

The strategies used by Tendele are sadly typical of many companies operating in impoverished rural communities. Mines dangle incentives to impoverished community members with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, which almost always lead to violence and deaths. In rural areas that are difficult to police, it takes someone with the determination and the courage of Mama Ntshangase to promote community solidarity and resistance in the face of these strategies. There are other leaders of this calibre in MCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing.

We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers.

We call on the Tendele to stop its campaign of dividing and fomenting violence in the affected community of Somkhele, and to provide funds for Mam Ntshangase’s funeral and for maintenance for her orphaned grandson.

We stand by all defenders of land and environmental rights, and will act to defend their Constitutional rights to life, dignity, free speech, access to justice, access to food and water, and an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing.

Joint Media Statement:,

CER (Centre for Environmental Rights) https://cer.org.za/

Earthlife Africa https://earthlife.org.za/

GET (Global Environmental Trust) https://globalenvironmentaltrust.org/

groundWork https://www.groundwork.org.za/

MACUA (Mining Affected Communities United in Action) https://macua.org.za/

MCEJO (Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation)

SAHRDN (Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network)  http://www.southernafricadefenders.africa/

WAMUA (Women Against Mining United in Action) https://macua.org.za/

——————————————–END——————————————————————

Contacts: Tsepang Molefe; +27 74 405 1257; media@groundwork.org.za

                  Lerato Balendran; +27 79 071 744 ; lbalendran@cer.org.za

                  Sifiso Dladla; +27 78 849 8621; sifiso.dladla@actionaid.org.za

                  Robby Mokgalaka; +27 73 774 3362; robby@groundwork.org.za

Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to the national elections

22 October 2020

Civil society letter endorsed by over 65 organisations

To: President John Magufuli

Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to national elections Excellency,

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the United Republic of Tanzania. In the past five years, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a state of repression, evidenced by the increased harassment, intimidation, prosecution and persecution of political activists, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and media houses; the enactment of restrictive laws; and disregard for rule of law, constitutionalism, as well as regional and international human rights standards. We are deeply concerned that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the country heads for general elections on 28 October 2020.1

Tanzania as a party to several regional and international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has a legal obligation to respect and protect fundamental rights, particularly the right to – freedom of expression and the media, peacefully assemble, form and join associations, and to participate in public affairs, which are fundamental rights for free and fair elections in a democratic society. As a member of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tanzania has committed to uphold and promote democratic principles, popular participation and good governance.

Leading up to the elections in Tanzania, we have unfortunately documented an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. The role of the media in providing information and access to varying viewpoints in a true democracy is indispensable. Media houses must be allowed to provide these services without undue restrictions, yet in recent times, several independent media houses have been suspended. These have included the seven-day suspensions of The Citizen newspaper in February 2019,2 Clouds TV and Clouds FM in August 2020, and the six-month suspension of Kwanza online TV in September 20193 and again in July 2020 for 11 months;4 the online publication ban against Mwananchi news in April 2020;5 the revocation, effective June 24, 2020, of the license of the Tanzania Daima newspaper;6 and the fines against online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV in September 2019.7We note, with great disappointment, that the government is yet to comply with a ruling by the East African Court of Justice requiring the amendment of the Media Services Act to address the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression.8

We are further concerned about the restrictions on individuals peacefully expressing their opinions, including criticising public officials.9 The latter are required to tolerate a greater amount of criticism than others – a necessary requirement for transparency and accountability. Tanzania’s criminal justice system has however been misused to target those who criticize the government. Tito Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani were arrested in December 2019 and questioned over their social media use and association with certain government critics.10 The duo was subsequently charged with economic crimes, including “money laundering” which is a non-bailable offence. Despite their case

being postponed more than 20 times since December 2019, and no evidence being presented against them, they remain in pre-trial detention.11 Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was similarly arrested and charged with “money laundering” where he was held in pre-trial detention for seven months with his case postponed over ten times.12 Several United Nations (UN) mandate holders have raised concern about the misuse of the country’s anti-money laundering laws that “allow the Government to hold its critics in detention without trial and for an indefinite period.”13

Most recently, prominent human rights lawyer and vocal critic of the government, Fatma Karume was disbarred from practising law in Tanzania following submissions she made in a constitutional case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General.14 Other lawyers are also facing disciplinary proceedings for publicly raising issues on judicial independence and rule of law. Opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe was arrested and prosecuted for statements made calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings by State security agents.15 The above cases are clear evidence of an intolerance for alternative views and public debate.

In addition, authorities should ensure respect for the right of individuals to freely form associations and for those associations to participate in public affairs, without unwarranted interference. We note the increasing misuse of laws to restrict and suspend the activities of civil society organisations.16 On August 12, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was notified that its bank accounts had been frozen pending police investigations. THRDC’s coordinator was then summoned by the police to explain an alleged failure to submit to the State Treasury its contractual agreements with donors.17 Prior to this, in June, 2020, the authorities disrupted the activities of THRDC for allegedly contravening “laws of the land.”18 Several other non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment for issuing public statements critical of the government. Ahead of the elections some civil society organisations have reported being informally told by authorities to cease activities. As a result of the repressive environment, civil society organisations have been forced to self-censor activities.

We also note the enactment of further restrictive laws.19 For example, the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act (The Amendment Act)20 which has introduced amendments to 13 laws.21 The Amendment Act requires anyone making a claim for violation of rights to have been personally affected.22 This limits the ability of civil society organisations to carry out legal aid and law-based activities where they are not personally harmed. It violates Article 26(2) of the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of every person “to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights.23 The Amendment Act further provides that lawsuits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but must be brought against the Attorney General.24 This provision undermines government accountability for human rights violations. We remind the authorities that international bodies have raised concern about Tanzania’s repressive laws.25

We are especially concerned over the continued cases of verbal threats and physical attacks against members of opposition political parties.26 We note with concern that to date, no one has been held accountable for the 2017 attack against then CHADEMA party leader, Tundu Lissu, who is a

presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Most recently, opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was brutally attacked and his assailants are still at large. Failure to thoroughly and impartially investigate such cases breeds a culture of violence and impunity, which in turn threatens the peace and security of the country. The government must take steps to bring perpetrators of such violence to account and to guarantee the safety of all other opposition party members and supporters.

Earlier, in November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued a press statement on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania.”27 The Commission specifically voiced concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities.” The ongoing crackdown on civic space in Tanzania also led the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to issue a strong warning ahead of the 28 October 2020 General Elections. At the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session, she “[drew] the Council’s attention to increasing repression of the democratic and civic space, in what is becoming a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights” and stressed that “[with] elections approaching later this month, we are receiving increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society actors, activists, journalists and members of opposition parties.” She added: “Further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.”28

While we acknowledge measures taken by your government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the citizens of Tanzania, we are deeply concerned that the pandemic has been used to unduly restrict fundamental freedoms. Examples are the arrest and sentencing of two Kenyan journalists for interviewing members of the public in Tanzania on the status of the pandemic in the country29 as well as, the suspension of Kwanza Online TV for reposting an alert by the U.S. embassy in Tanzania regarding the pandemic in the country.30 The rights to peacefully express one’s opinion, receive information, peaceful assembly and association, and to participate in public affairs are not only essential in the context of the upcoming elections, but also in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom of expression in particular, ensures “the communication of information to the public, enabling individuals to … develop opinions about the public health threat so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their communities.”31 The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Government responses to COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress individual human rights or to repress the free flow of information.32

The need for Tanzania to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law is now more than ever important as a matter of national security, following recent reports of insurgent attacks along Tanzania’s border with Mozambique.33 Studies have shown that experiences of injustice, marginalization and a breakdown in rule of law, are root causes of disaffection and violence. A peaceful and prosperous nation requires good governance and respect for rule of law, with a society that protects fundamental freedoms and ensures justice for all.

As civil society organisations deeply concerned about constitutionalism, justice and democracy in the United Republic of Tanzania, we strongly urge your Excellency to adhere to your undertaking to ensure a free and fair election in Tanzania. The government has an obligation to create an enabling environment for everyone, including political opposition, non-governmental organisations, journalists, and other online users, HRDs, and other real or perceived government opponents to exercise their human rights without fear of reprisals. As such, we call on the relevant authorities to immediately drop criminal charges and release defenders such as Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani and any others being prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights. Suspensions and the freezing

of assets of non-governmental organisations such as THRDC, independent media houses such as Kwanza Online TV and members of the legal profession- particularly Fatma Karume, must be reversed. Opposition parties must be allowed to freely and peacefully campaign and engage with their supporters without undue restrictions such as arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, forceful dispersal and intimidation of supporters and harassment by security forces. The legitimacy of

Tanzania’s elections is at stake.

We call on Tanzania to heed the messages delivered by national, African, and international actors and to change course before the country enters a full-fledged human rights crisis, with potentially grave domestic and regional consequences.

Signed:

  1. Access Now, Global
  2. Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Africa
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AfroLeadership
  6. ARTICLE 19, Global
  7. Asia Dalit Rights Forum ADRF, New Delhi and Kathmandu
  8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  9. Association of Freelance Journalists
  10. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
  11. CEALDES, Colombia
  12. Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
  13. Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  14. Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada
  15. Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
  16. Child Watch, Tanzania
  17. CIVICUS, Global
  18. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
  19. CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
  20. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  22. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan
  23. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  24. Corporación Comuna Nueva, Santiago de Chile
  25. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  26. Democracy Monitor PU, Azerbaijan
  27. Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
  28. Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
  29. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
  30. Espacio Público, Venezuela
  31. Front Line Defenders, Global
  32. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-Afrique), Canada
  33. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-BENIN)
  34. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP Mali)
  35. Gestos (HIV and AIDS, communication, gender), Brazil
  36. Greenpeace Africa
  37. HAKI Africa, Kenya
  38. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  39. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
  40. Humanium, Switzerland
  41. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HuMENA Regional)
  42. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) – Belgium
  43. Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C. (JADESOCIALES)- México
  44. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka-Burundi
  45. Maison de la Société Civile (MdSC), Bénin
  46. MARUAH, Singapore
  47. Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
  48. Nigeria Network of NGOs, Nigeria
  49. Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile de la RD Congo (NDSCI)
  50. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  51. ONG Convergence des Actions Solidaires et les Objectifs de Développement Durable (CAS-ODD ONG) – Bénin
  52. ONG Nouvelle Vision (NOVI), Bénin
  53. Open School of Sustainable Development (Openshkola), Russia
  54. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  55. Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
  56. RESOSIDE, Burkina Faso
  57. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Global
  58. Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
  59. Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somalia
  60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  61. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
  62. The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), Uganda
  63. Tournons La Page (TLP)
  64. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Sierra Leone
  65. Women in Democracy and Governance, Kenya (WIDAG)
  66. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia

1 United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Experts call on Tanzania to end crackdown on civic space, July 22, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E.

2 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen, March 01, 2019, available at: https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban/

3 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at: https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/. See also American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020.

4 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania bans Kwanza Online TV for 11 months citing ‘misleading’ Instagram post on COVID-19, July 09, 2020, available at: https://cpj.org/2020/07/tanzania-bans-kwanza-online-tv-for-11-months-citing-misleading-instagram-post-on-covid-19/

5 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian newspaper banned from publishing online for 6 months over COVID-19 report, May 11, 2020, available at: https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

6 Committee to Protect Journalist, Tanzanian government revokes license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, June 26, 2020, available at: https://cpj.org/2020/06/tanzanian-government-revokes-license-of-tanzania-daima-newspaper/

7 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at: https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

8Committee to Protect Journalists, East Africa court rules that Tanzania’s Media Services Act violates press freedom, March 28, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/03/east-african-court-rules-that-tanzanias-media-serv/

9 We refer to cases such as the arrest of prominent comedian, Idris Sultan, in May 2020 (https://thrdc.or.tz/tanzanian-comedian-and-actor-mr-idris-sultan-charged-for-failure-to-register-a-sim-card/), and the disbarrment from practicing law of prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Fatma Karume (https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/).

10 Committee to protect journalists, Mwanachi, The Citizen, last seen in Tanzania, November 21, 2017, available at https://cpj.org/data/people/azory-gwanda/.

11 American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Tanzania: Preliminary Analysis of the criminal case against Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, July 28 2020, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/tanzania–preliminary-analysis-of-the-criminal-case-against-tito/.

12 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera freed, but faces hefty fines, February 24, 2020, available at: https://cpj.org/2020/02/tanzanian-freelancer-erick-kabendera-freed-but-fac/

13 Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Letter to President of Tanzania, Reference AL TZA 1/2020, January 31,2020, available at https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25049.

14 International Commission of Jurists, Tanzania: ICJ Calls for the reinstatement of lawyer Fatma Karume’s right to practice law, October 8, 2020, available at https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/.

15The Citizen, Zitto Kabwe sentenced to serve one year ban not writing seditious statements, may 29, 2020, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.htm

16 The cancellation of a training organised by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), the subsequent arrest of THRDC’s Director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and suspension of the activities of the organisation, as well as freezing of their accounts exemplifies the misuse of these laws against civil society (See: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tanzania-human-rights-group-suspends-operations/1945400)

17 DefendDefenders, Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association, August 24, 2020, available at https://defenddefenders.org/tanzania-respect-the-right-to-freedom-of-association/.

18 Two employees of one of THRDC were arrested in Dar es Salaam and thereafter authorities proceed to arbitrarily cancel the hosting of a three-day security training for 30 human rights defenders. The police claimed that the training was in contravention of the “laws of the land” but did not give a specific provision

19 These include the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations; Media Services Act; Cybercrimes Act; and Political Parties Amendment Act.

20 Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020)

21 Southern Africa Litigation Center, Joint letter, The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act no.3 ( 2020), available at https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Honourable-Minister-of-Justice-for-the-Republic-of-Tanzania.pdf-August-2020.pdf.
22 Section 7(b) of the Written Laws Amendments Act

23 The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa provide that States must ensure through adoption of national legislation that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human rights claim before a judicial body for determination, because such claims are matters of public concern.

24 Amendments to the Chapter 310 of the Law Reform (Fatal accidents and miscellaneous provisions) Act and to the Chapter 3 of the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act

25 See for example communication of the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, AL TZA 3/2020, 17 July 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25442

26 These include the verbal abuse and threats of execution against Zitto Kabwe, leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo opposition party (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51355148), his conviction for sedition for statements he made at a press conference in relation to alleged extra judicial killings by state security forces (https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.html), and his re-arrested together with several party members while they participated in an internal meeting (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/24/tanzanian-opposition-leader-zitto-kabwe-released-on-bail/); as well as the conviction of nine Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia(CHADEMA) party and their sentencing in March 2020 to five months in prison or an alternative fine, for allegedly making seditious statements (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8); and the attack against the party leader, Freeman Mbowe, by unknown assailants leaving him with a broken leg (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8).

27 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Press statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania,, available at https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=459.

28 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people’s rights,” 14 September 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226&LangID=E

29 Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Two Kenyan Journalists convicted and fined in Tanzania, repatriated back to Kenya, May 21, 2020, available at https://thrdc.or.tz/blog/.

30American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020. See also Kwanza TV Instagram, available at https://www.instagram.com/p/CCGT_5ECT_n/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet
31 Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/44/49, para. 30

32 The Guardian, Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis, UN warns, 23 April 2020, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/coronavirus-pandemic-is-becoming-a-human-rights-crisis-un-warns. See also UNHRC,, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association, April 14, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25788&LangID=E.

33 BBC, Tanzania border village attack “leaves 20 dead”, October 16, 2020, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441%26Tanzania%20b order%20village%20attack%20%27leaves%2020%20dead%27%262020-10-16T10%3A29%3A29.229Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:2f81fc88-030c-49d4-9d25-b8268a2dbf55&pinned_post_asset_id=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441&pinned_post_type=share

Joint Civil Society Statement in the Case of Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu v. Kaduna State: An Opportunity to Protect Free Speech in Nigeria

On October 22, 2020, an important case comes for decision before the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria. The case – brought by Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu – will have an important impact on the rights of people in Nigeria to voice their opinions in matters of public interest and question those in authority. We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, see this upcoming case as an opportunity for Nigeria’s judiciary to ensure that the protection of human rights in the country aligns with the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations. In particular, this case provides an opportunity for the judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation.

The case before the Federal High Court challenges the constitutionality of criminal charges against Prof. Odinkalu, a renowned Nigerian human rights lawyer and former Chairperson of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, following a televised interview he gave in February 2019 in Abuja, the Federal Capital. In the interview, Prof. Odinkalu challenged claims by the Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai – made a day before scheduled elections in the State – that 66 members of the Fulani ethnic group had been killed in Kajuru, Kaduna State. Prof. Odinkalu stated that the Governor’s statement appeared to have no basis in reality and could not be verified by the relevant state agents. He further expressed concern that the statement could cause ethnic tensions leading to electoral violence.

Following the televised interview, on March 18, 2019, Prof. Odinkalu was charged by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of Kaduna State with inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood, public nuisance, and furnishing false information. The case, which was initiated before the Magistrate Court in Kaduna, was fraught with numerous procedural irregularities including an undated case file with no file number; closed hearings from the public; and the continuation of the case in the absence of Prof. Odinkalu despite an order from the High Court staying proceedings in the case. On October 26, 2020, the State High Court of Kaduna will preside over the judicial review of the criminal proceedings in the Magistrate Court of Kaduna.

The judgment of the Federal High Court on October 22, 2020 presents a monumental opportunity for the court to recognise the right to freedom of expression and ensure that it is enforced in Kaduna State in accordance with the country’s human rights obligations. Government officials and people in authority are not exempt or protected from criticism. United Nations special experts and mechanisms have specifically highlighted in reference to Nigeria, which includes all its Federal States, that public officials are required to tolerate greater criticism than the rest of society and that actions taken by them should not stifle public debate. While the right to freedom of expression may be restricted for public health and public security reasons, such restrictions – even when provided for by law – must be justifiable in a democratic society and must be necessary to achieve the stated purpose. Furthermore, any limitations must be the least restrictive means to achieve the objective.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has held that seeking to impose a prison sentence, let alone corporal punishments such as lashings, for criticism of a public authority – whether true or otherwise – can never be necessary or proportional. Regional and international bodies have further called on all States to repeal criminal defamation laws, as well as all laws which effectively criminalise defamation, sedition, insult and false news. Where necessary, such infractions can and should be dealt with through civil proceedings, which should also be adequately proportionate and provide appropriate defences.

Given Nigeria’s regional and international obligations, as a signatory to several treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, we are concerned that the Kaduna State government chose to undertake a criminal prosecution against Prof. Odinkalu for what is clearly protected speech. The undersigned organisations and individuals thus look forward to the decision of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in this important case.

Organisations

  1. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
  2. African Defenders (Pan African HRDs Network)
  3. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AJPD – Angola
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  8. Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
  9. Chapter One Foundation
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  12. Friends of Angola (FoA)
  13. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
  14. Global Rights
  15. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  16. Human Rights Institute of Southern Africa (HURISA)
  17. International Commission of Jurists- Kenya
  18. International Refugee Rights Initiative 
  19. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  20. Media Rights Agenda
  21. MOSAIKO-Angola
  22. Mouvement Inamohoro, Femmes et Filles pour la paix et la sécurité
  23. Open Bar Initiative, Nigeria
  24. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  25. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
  26. Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) Nigeria
  27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  28. SADC Lawyers Association
  29. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  30. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  31. Tap Nitiative for Citizens Development
  32. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS-USA)
  33. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
  34. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  35. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Individuals    

  1. Delma Monteiro                                 Angola
  2. Lúcia da Silveira                                 Angola
  3. Garcia Mvemba                                  Angola
  4. Godinho Cristóvão                             Angola
  5. Julio Candieiro                                   Angola
  6. Fortunato Paixão                                 Angola
  7. Cristina Gouveia                                 Angola
  8. Alice Mogwe                                      Botswana
  9. Marie Louise Baricaco                       Burundi
  10. Star Rugori                                          Burundi          
  11. Joseph Bikanda                                   Cameroon
  12. Ady Namaran Coulibaly                     Cote d’Ivoire
  13. Hannah Forster                                   Gambia
  14. Edmund Amarkwei Foley                  Ghana 
  15. Abdul Noormohamed                         Kenya
  16. Andrew Songa                                    Kenya
  17. Crystal Simeoni                                  Kenya 
  18. Diana Gichengo                                  Kenya
  19. Donald Deya                                       Kenya
  20. Irene Soila                                           Kenya
  21. James Gondi                                       Kenya
  22. Maureen Achieng Akena                    Kenya 
  23. Patricia Nyaundi                                 Kenya
  24. Roland Ebole                                      Kenya
  25. Charles Kajoloweka                            Malawi
  26. Happy Mhango                                   Malawi
  27. Nikiwe Kaunda                                   Malawi           
  28. Tiseke Kasambala                              Malawi
  29. Victor Mhango                                    Malawi           
  30. Professor Adriano Nuvunga               Mozambique
  31. Custodio Duma                                   Mozambique  
  32. Vicente Manjate                                 Mozambique
  33. Norman Tjombe                                 Namibia
  34. Abdul Mahmud                                   Nigeria
  35. Abiodun Baiyewu                               Nigeria
  36. Ariyo-Dare Atoye                               Nigeria
  37. Cheta Nwanze                                     Nigeria
  38. Chido Onumah                                   Nigeria
  39. Edet Ojo                                              Nigeria
  40. Mbasekei Martin Obono                     Nigeria
  41. Nana Nwachukwu                              Nigeria
  42. Ohimai Amaize                                   Nigeria
  43. Omoyele Sowore                                Nigeria
  44. Steven Kefason                                   Nigeria
  45. Valnora Edwin                                    Sierra Leone
  46. Annah Moyo                                       South Africa
  47. Corlett Letlojane                                 South Africa
  48. Hakima Haithar                                  South Africa
  49. Nomsa Sizane                                     South Africa
  50. Samkelo Mokhine                               South Africa
  51. Simphiwe Sidu                                    South Africa
  52. Shuvai Nyoni                                      South Africa
  53. Sufiya Bray                                         South Africa
  54. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  South Africa
  55. Abdel-Moniem El Jak                        Sudan 
  56. Mary Pais                                            Swaziland
  57. Muzi Masuku                                      Swaziland
  58. Thulani Maseko                                  Swaziland
  59. Vera Mshana                                       Tanzania
  60. Dismas Nkunda                                  Uganda
  61. Jackson Odong                                    Uganda
  62. Lamunu Lamunu Prossy                     Uganda
  63. Nelly Badaru                                       Uganda
  64. Salima Namusobya                             Uganda
  65. Sharon Nakandha                                Uganda
  66. Linda Kasonde                                    Zambia
  67. Professor Michelo Hansungule           Zambia
  68. Muleya Mwananyanda                       Zambia
  69. Muluka Miti-Drummond                    Zambia
  70. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  Zambia           
  71. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge                Zimbabwe
  72. Arnold Tsunga                                    Zimbabwe
  73. Brian Tamuka Kagoro                                    Zimbabwe
  74. Makanatsa Makonese                         Zimbabwe
  75. Charles Clint Chimedza                     Zimbabwe
  76. Deprose Muchena                               Zimbabwe
  77. Fungisayi Patricia Mwanyisa             Zimbabwe
  78. Hardlife Mudzingwa                           Zimbabwe
  79. Janah Ncube                                       Zimbabwe
  80. Janet Zhou                                           Zimbabwe
  81. Kelvin Kabaya                                    Zimbabwe
  82. Lloyd Kuveya                                     Zimbabwe
  83. Mamukeleni Tsunga                           Zimbabwe
  84. Memory Zonde-Kachambwa              Zimbabwe
  85. Mooya Nyaundi                                  Zimbabwe
  86. Muchengeti Hwacha                           Zimbabwe
  87. Munjodzi Mutandiri                            Zimbabwe
  88. Musa Kika                                          Zimbabwe
  89. Otto Saki                                             Zimbabwe
  90. Passmore Nyakureba                          Zimbabwe
  91. Siphosami Malunga                            Zimbabwe
  92. Stanely Nyamanindi                           Zimbabwe
  93. Professor Carl LeVan                         American University 
  94. Desiree Cormier Smith                       Open Society Foundations

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Legal Monitor

In the latest Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Legal Monitor (LM) Protest Edition, the spotlight was on renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga and several other human rights defenders, who were
arrested for engaging in protests and how from Bulawayo to Harare,
Mwenezi, Chegutu, Shamva, Kwekwe, Zvishavane and Chipinge, ZLHR
managed to secure their release after they simply exercised their
constitutional rights.

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region. The weekly roundup is a collaboration between the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Maverick Citizen

Civil society leader Timothy Mtambo, now the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity in Malawi, explains how civic activism defeated the authoritarian regime of president Mutharika and created a foundation for building a durable and strong democracy. His recipe for social mobilisation has lessons for citizens of many other countries in Africa who are living under the yoke of oppression and authoritarian rule.

Far too many people in Africa are yearning for change and opportunity and unfortunately denied by those who govern them. A system of dictatorship can take its toll on ordinary people and create a sense of siege and helplessness with no clear pathway to freedom.

In the words of our own Africa liberation icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, “it looks impossible until it happens”.

Starting with the end in mind

In May 2019 when the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced election results that were not credible and the international observer teams endorsed what we Malawians were seeing as fatally flawed electoral processes, we knew immediately that the fate of Malawi was largely in the hands of ordinary Malawians. It is a truism that every country’s fate is largely in the hands of its own people. However people are paralysed by fear because of the ruthlessness of autocratic regimes.

As leaders of Malawi civil society we realised that without an independent, impartial and effective electoral commission, open civic space, effective civic engagement and participation and political reforms, that elections in Malawi were chronologically compliant meaningless rituals with no substantive value to ordinary people of Malawi.

We were determined to change that when we formed the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in December 2017.We wanted to put the agency for accountable governance back to ordinary Malawians. Free, fair and credible elections were central to governmental legitimacy, important for implementing the social contract. But without MEC institutional reform, free and fair elections were a pipe dream. Yet we also knew that MEC reform would not be possible without people agency and power. Every generation has a mandate that it must achieve or betray. Our generational mandate was clear and we were not prepared for anything to stop us.

First things first – People power: Giving Malawians back their collective voice

As a human rights activist, leading the HRDC, we chose to mobilise and give the people of Malawi their voice. Thousands of people bravely took to the streets on a regular basis to peacefully campaign against bad and corrupt governance including the 2019 election.  We declared 2020 the year of mass protests. We actively and consistently called for the resignation of the chairperson of the MEC, Jane Ansah, and the holding of fresh elections. The message was simple, clear, and unambiguous. The demonstrations ranged from organised large-scale marches to smaller spontaneous outbursts. Teachers, sanitation workers, truck drivers, airline staff, students, lecturers, churches took to the streets. It was unprecedented.  

Some  of the most notable demonstrations that changed the democratic terrain include the demonstrations for resignation of MEC Chair Jane Ansah; the anti-bribery march to defend judicial independence; demonstrations for nullification of elections results of 2019; 16 January 2020 MEC reform Jane Ansah resignation Lilongwe demonstration; demonstrations to use chains to lock MEC offices, demonstrations for investigations of sexual assault and rape allegations against the police in Msundwe.

Mutharika’s reaction and the battle for the independence of institutions of democracy

President Mutharika tried various tricks to try to delay the elections. This included refusing to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bill that had already been passed by parliament, trying to get Members of Parliament to change the date of the elections and refusing to fire the then MEC chairperson, Jane Ansah and her team of commissioners who were found incompetent by the courts. 

Once it became clear that the HRDC leadership had mobilised ordinary Malawians to take agency for accountable governance into their own hands, Mutharika became paranoid and started constricting civic space and persecuting human rights defenders.

The law became weaponised. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of HRDC leaders became commonplace.

At a personal level I was arrested and experienced direct threats to my life and that of my wife and children, cyberbullying, character assassination, arson attacks and shooting incidents. My children were threatened at school and in social media messages. One such nasty posting encouraged people to mass-rape my wife on sight. I was forced, with the support of the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, to evacuate my family to safety in order to tackle the dictatorship bare knuckled.

Israeli agents were conscripted into the state house with sinister motives to  either rig elections or harm civil society leaders, human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents. I wonder till today how much Malawi paid to the Israelis to frustrate our democratic growth.

Deployment of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadres to spread fear and disrupt civil society meetings became commonplace. With HRDC and later Citizens for Transformation Movement (CFT), we mobilised more people to build a critical mass of courageous citizens who had passed the threshold of fear. In one instance, despite having security personnel with us, we were still attacked in the city of Mzuzu by 20 DPP cadres who pelted our convoy with stones.

We were very grateful that the Malawi Defence Forces were extremely professional and protected everyone, the protesters and the DPP cadres, and filled a critical gap in national security that arose as a result of the total loss of support and confidence in the police force by the Malawi people following their ready acceptance of being co-opted as a militia to protect the interests of president Mutharika.

The HRDC took an uncompromising demand that the MEC needed reform, in particular resignation of the MEC Chair as a precondition for free, fair and credible elections. Mutharika resisted this until the very last minute when in May 2020 under relentless HRDC-led civil society pressure, the MEC Chair resigned forcing the president to reluctantly appoint a new commission just 2 weeks before elections. According to a blog from Oxfam, Chifundo Kachale, the new MEC Chair, “brilliantly navigated a combination of political and logistical obstacles, despite only taking over two weeks before the election”.

As he realised that power was slowly but surely slipping away from him, an increasingly paranoid Mutharika turned into vandalising state institutions and behaving like an absolute monarch. In the run up to his predictable electoral defeat he started to rule almost by decree. In a spectacular period of less than two weeks, he fired his entire cabinet including a minister who was less than 2 weeks old in office; he fired the army commander Ndundwe; he fired the police commissioner. All the fired senior government officials were replaced by his cronies and relatives.

I was so terrified that the moves by Mutharika to summarily dismiss respected army generals would trigger instability in the army and also cause the army to lose its professionalism and be used to attack civilians as happens in other jurisdictions. We had meetings with the army and thankfully they remained professional and insistent on carrying out their mandate of protecting everyone in Malawi without fear or favour.

I would emphasize the role of a professional, disciplined and well trained army in the protection of participatory democracy. This distinguishes Malawi from many countries where the army is deployed to harm or even kill unarmed civilians and thwart democratic growth of our societies.

In his last days Mutharika converted the courts and judicial arena as a battle front in his insatiable quest for power retention.

He went after Chief Justice Nyirenda trying to force him into early retirement but this was resisted by the HRDC, the Association of Magistrates and the Law Society of Malawi, and in a quite  unprecedented way by the Chief Justices of the whole region under the auspices of the Southern Africa Chief Justices Forum (SACJF).

Despite his background as a former professor of law, Mutharika tried to put a knife into separation of powers by addressing parliament suggesting that in Malawi we did not have separation of powers but parliamentary superiority over the judiciary. The judiciary had really angered him by the decisions they made especially of nullifying the 2019 elections.

Happily the judiciary survived and again as a result of the resilience of civil society represented by the HRDC to fight for and claim the independence of their institutions, we now have a judiciary that is more independent than at any other time in the history of Malawi.

Citizens of SADC and indeed the AU must fight for and defend the independence of their judiciaries and election management bodies so that they are not co opted by the authoritarian regimes to be instruments at the hands of oppression.

Covid-19 measures as a political weapon

Like other despots around the world, Mutharika tried to use the Covid-19 pandemic to stifle dissent and prolong his stay in power. The HRDC challenged this approach in the streets through protests and in the courts through strategic litigation. The Covid-19 measures Mutharika was trying to impose were to be implemented by his cronies who aimed to milk national resources for political objectives.

This irregularity coupled with lack of safety nets for the socioeconomic effects on ordinary people left the HRDC with no option but to successfully challenge Mutharika’s announcement of a lockdown in the courts. Protests erupted in informal settlements, and in small towns and trading centers — all places predominantly made up of people working in the informal economy. Nurses and doctors embarked on go-slows and sit-ins, while the civil servants’ union also announced plans for a general strike in response to this and other issues such as corruption, the rising cost of living and drug shortages.   

These different aspects of Malawian civil society worked together to safeguard the democratic process despite the opportunity Covid-19 offered for Mutharika to undermine our democratic process that would culminate in elections. Thankfully, while Covid-19 posed a real and significant threat to both the public health of Malawians and to our democracy, elections were held and the rest is history.

In the end a government was elected that has strong legitimacy stands better prospects of getting people’s active and conscious cooperation in a sustainable fight against Covid-19.

From the terraces to the theatre: Entering the quasi-political zone 

Back in April 2020, upon the realisation that the Mutharika regime could not be shaken by human rights activism alone, and in a bid to encourage widespread participation and directly influence the democratic process, I decided to establish a politically oriented peoples movement comprised of vibrant young men and women who were determined to be governed better and actively announce their preferred political choices.

We announced the formation of a movement called Citizens for Transformation Movement (CFT), a people powered movement that was the first of its kind in Malawi. It was a new approach founded on “the values of human rights, peaceful co-existence, rule of law, active and patriotic citizenship in pressing for inclusive social, political and economic transformation and a prosperous future for all Malawians”.

Faced with and bearing the brunt of authoritarian practices of president Mutharika, we endorsed the candidature of Dr Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate Dr Saulos Chilima and actively and publicly conscientised citizens of our views holding large meetings covering the width and breadth of Malawi.  

Our philosophy as the CFT peoples movement was that we did not want to govern, but we wanted to be governed better.

This is an important philosophy for African people still suffering from the yoke of oppression by their own post-independent governments. A demand for accountable governance is indeed a legitimate demand to be governed better. It is not a demand to govern neither does it necessarily amount to a choice of any specific political party being in power. It is about constitutionalism. With this philosophy, electoral choices become easy. People’s movements actively associate with political formations that demonstrably promise better accountable governance. This is a post independence generational mandate that must be fulfilled if Africa is to be better.

Human rights as a people movement and election issue

The CFT people’s movement elevated human rights as an election issue in Malawi. We spoke against gross human violations and inequalities and became the voice of the voiceless. We spoke against the targeted attacks on people with albinism who had experienced ritual killings and yet the government had done little to either bring perpetrators to book or to protect them. We spoke on behalf of the women from Msundwe area in Lilongwe who were openly abused and raped by police officers but never got justice. All these issues, including dwindling educational standards, high unemployment levels, lack of quality healthcare and drugs and health personnel in hospitals resonated with the people’s day to day struggles. 

People’s movement and defending the vote

Due to Covid-19, we did not have international election observers. This left everyone in Malawi in no doubt that the responsibility to protect the vote resided in Malawians. This was especially so when confidence in the efficacy and utility value of international observation was in question given that in both Malawi and Kenya, international observers seemed to certify faulty elections as free, fair and credible only for domestic courts to overturn such elections.

Come Election Day, the people demonstrated a strong will to guard and defend their vote. Activists, civil servants, university lecturers and bankers were deployed to polling stations across the country to observe and to guard the vote.

This effort was complemented by informal patrols established by community leaders, composed predominantly of young men, who kept watch for any unusual activity in their areas. They fed information about suspicious people or vehicles to social media, and also informed units from the Malawi Defence Force, which was also deployed on Election Day. These informal patrols resulted in the arrest of several individuals allegedly carrying bundles of cash to bribe election monitors, and handed them over to the police in areas such as Nkhotakota, Salima and Rumphi districts.

People’s victory

Ultimately fresh presidential elections were held on 23 June 2020, following the annulment of last year’s elections first by the Constitutional Court and later upheld by the Supreme Court, citing serious irregularities. This was the second time on the continent and the first in the Southern Africa region where an African Court overturned a presidential election and called for a fresh election. The first was in Kenya in 2017, but saw the opposition boycotting the rerun election.

The Malawi Congress Party led the Tonse Alliance (meaning “all of us” in the local Chichewa language) of nine opposition political parties and Dr Lazarus Chakwera, won the elections by 58.5% of the votes against President Peter Mutharika’s 39.4%. The voter turnout was 64.8%. 

To many Malawians this was the dawn of a new era. 

Impact of people power acknowledged

This ‘people power’ as reiterated by Nic Cheeseman, a professor and African politics expert at the University of Birmingham, and Golden Matonga, a Malawian award-winning journalist, significantly increased pressure on key democratic institutions and those working within them. 

Afrobarometer’s Director of Surveys also echoed this:     

“Malawi was soon swept up in one of the most encouraging political revolutions to hit Africa in the last two decades — the rise of the activist generation. Indeed, an Afrobarometer survey at the time found that there was strong opposition to any attempt to subvert the democratic process, with 68 percent of its citizens believing that the opposition parties were justified in filing their case. 

“Nine months later, in February 2020, bolstered by its people, Malawi’s supreme court mandated fresh elections … The courts have really stood up to defend democracy, but so [has] civil society.” 

The fact that a coordinated opposition, protesters in the streets and independent judges in Malawi’s high courts sufficiently safeguarded Malawi’s democracy, cannot be overemphasized. 

Indeed, Malawians should be commended for adopting a “home-grown ownership” of this election process. 

Looking into the future with cautious optimism

As Malawians thronged the streets celebrating and dancing, and as the new President was sworn in, it was indeed a breath of fresh air.

As Dr Chakwera began forming his government and the realisation that I had been selected as one of the Ministers in his Cabinet, I sat down and reflected on the journey. A journey that saw blood, sweat and tears. A journey that had seen Malawians hit the streets demonstrating against the government more than any other time in the history of the country.

Today I find myself as Minister in a new ministry of Civic Education and National Unity. This is a perfect challenge for me. As someone who was being accused of being a terrorist and of bringing chaos in the country by former President Mutharika, now I find myself at the centre of promoting national unity. 

I am again reminded of Mandela’s words that it looks impossible until it happens. I sign off by sharing in solidarity with the oppressed people of Africa what Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

Timothy Mtambo is the Commander in Chief of the CFT People Power Movement and the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity in Malawi. 

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SAHRDN and CDD condemn the bombings of Canal de Moçambique premises and the continued attacks on press freedoms in Mozambique

August 24, 2020

Maputo and Johannesburg

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Center for Democracy and Development – Mozambique (CDD) strongly condemn the petrol-bombing of the Canal de Moçambique offices in Maputo, Mozambique.  Canal de Moçambique, https://canal.co.mz/ is one of the most credible, public interest  independent media outlet in Mozambique. This attack is a serious blow to the already dire situation of press freedom in Mozambique, which according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index is lowly ranked at 104 out of 180 countries.  SAHRDN and CDD calls on the authorities in Mozambique to protect press freedoms and to swiftly conduct an independent, credible and robust  investigation into this attack.

According to preliminary reports from a credible source, it is reported that on August 23, 2020, at around 20:00 hours (CAT), yet to be identified individuals broke into Canal de Moçambique newspaper facilities, poured fuel on all the furniture and computers and set off a homemade bomb. All the equipment and other accessories in the building were reduced to ashes. Canal de Moçambique has been highly critical of and exposed a raft of systemic corruption cases linked to the government of Mozambique.

In 2019, MISA-Mozambique reported that “a Maputo court acquitted the editor of the weekly paper “Canal de Mocambique”, Matias Guente, who had been accused of libel because of a caricature of one of the directors of the Bank of Mozambique, Joana Matsombe, which the paper had published”.

“Democracy dies in darkness, and Canal de Moçambique has been a consistent guiding light in promoting accountable governance and is only being targeted for speaking truth to power, and for holding those in power to account. We demand that the Government of Maputo carry-out an in-depth investigation into this bombing and more importantly, that it upholds its own constitution and respect regional and international human rights laws and treaties, which regards media freedoms as the oxygen for a democratic society”

Professor Adriano Nuvunga, who is the Executive Director for CDD-Mozambique

SAHRDN and CDD urges the government of Mozambique to lead by example in its official capacity as the new SADC chairperson and respect the fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press, which is under attack in Mozambique and in the SADC region especially during this COVID-19 period.

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ProtectCivicSpace

RespectFreedoms

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27 73 620 2608

Stop interfering with the Right to Fair Trial in Zimbabwe

24 August 2020

GABORONE/HARARE/JOHANNESBURG/LILONGWE /LUSAKA /MAPUTO/WINDHOEK

Today the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network joined hands with civil society from Africa and beyond to call on the judiciary in Zimbabwe to stop interfering with the rights of prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa to represent her client, the detained internationally recognized journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Hopewell has a constitutional right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice before an independent and impartial tribunal.

In an unprecedented act of rallying together of civil society to defend a leading human rights defender in Africa civil society argued that the right to freedom of expression of Beatrice Mtetwa is protected under international law. In terms of Principle 23 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles):

“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…..”

The right to freedom of expression is also “guaranteed in section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 19 (2) of the International Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter)” read the statement.

Consistent with the previous observations of the SAHRDN that the phenomenon of judicial persecution had reached unprecedented levels, the civil society leaders expressed concern at the violation of the right to fair trial.  “By disqualifying Beatrice Mtetwa, the court has undermined the accused person (Hopewell Chin’ono)’s right to legal representation, which is guaranteed in section 70(1) (d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 14(3) (b) of the ICCPR and article 7(1) of the African Charter. Subsequently, this undermines the accused person’s right to a fair trial” read the statement.

Notable pan-African leaders of civil society who signed on to the statement include Justice Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice of Kenya 2013-2017, Alice Mogwe (Botswana), Nikita Kaunda, Achieng Akena (Kenya), Chikosa Banda (Malawi), Don Deya (Kenya), Makanatsa Makonese, Muleya Mwananyanda (Zambia), Martin Masiga (Uganda), Norman Tjombe, Tiseke Kasambala (Malawi), Dr. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, Dr. Musa Kika, Dr. Rose Nakayi, Dr Walter Chambati, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Professor Danwood Chirwa, Professor Dzodzi Tsikata, Professor Hugh Corder, Professor Issa Shivji, Professor Michelo Hansungule, Professor Paris Yeros, Professor Praveen Jha, Professor Reg Austin and Professor Adriano Alfredo Nuvunga to name a few.

We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of everyone, including Beatrice Mtetwa’s right to freedom of expression and to practice her profession, the right of the accused persons to a fair trial including legal representation by a lawyer of their choice.

WeStandwithBeatrice

StandwitHER

For further information please contact Washington Katema the Regional Programmes Manager and Team Leader at the SAHRDN on wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27736202608 or Simphiwe Sidu the Regional Legal Adviser at SAHRDN on ssidu@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27766758168

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

Zambia recorded its first two cases of the Covid-19 virus on 18 March 2020. At first, the virus appeared to be contained but gradually, as the number of local transmission cases increased, the virus increased exponentially. According to the latest official statistics, Zambia has recorded a total of 10,372 cases of Covid-19 (by 21 August) with the official number of Covid-19 related deaths at 274.

Zambia is hitting the peak of the pandemic.  Yet the government has announced that there will be no lockdown, so as to avoid curtailing the means of survival for ordinary Zambians. This is because the majority of Zambians live from hand-to-mouth, a situation now made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, we have been very lucky. We are not seeing apocalyptic numbers of deaths and our health facilities are just about coping with the numbers of the sick. Only a few months ago, in May, President Edgar Lungu announced that the government was advising citizens to follow the health guidelines laid down. He talked about “transitioning to a new normal”. But effectively our “new normal” meant each man for himself and God for us all.

Whilst the jury is out on whether the official figures tally with the actual numbers, it appears that the pandemic in Zambia is being managed reasonably well. Despite a shortage of protective clothing and testing kits, the health facilities are generally adequate.

However, as with many countries across the globe, the pandemic has also created an opportunity for political expediency that has had a detrimental effect on the human rights situation in the country. This is in the context of the fact that Zambia will be going to the polls to elect a new government in 2021.

All roads lead to 2021 and as a result political expediency has been the order of the day. For example, the Government has introduced two statutory instruments under the Public Health Act in order to manage the pandemic. Both are thin on the details as to how the health regulations will be enforced.

Just a few days ago the police spokesperson, Esther Mwata Katongo announced that the police would start arresting and fining people the equivalent of $US39 for not wearing masks in public. The police did start making arrests accordingly, but the Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo rescinded the decision days later as it became apparent that there was no legal backing for the move in the health regulations. 

In terms of human rights, probably Zambia’s most well-known Covid-19 victim is Prime Television, a popular independent television station that had its broadcasting licence revoked following its refusal to broadcast government adverts and programmes on the Covid-19 pandemic for free in the midst of the economic crisis facing the country. The current Zambian government already has a history of clamping down on media freedoms following the closure of the largest independent newspaper in Zambia, The Post in 2017, and various other radio stations that have been critical of the government. The official reason given for closing the television station was that its broadcasting licence had expired.

Another casualty has been the restrictions on freedom of assembly. Public gatherings in Zambia are governed by the Public Order Act, a notorious piece of legislation whose constitutionality has been challenged several times on the basis that its provisions are arbitrary and not necessary in a democratic state. To adhere to the provisions of the Public Order Act, Zambians now have to get authority from the Ministry of Health or the Local Authority to hold public gatherings of more than five people.

These restrictions are being selectively applied. Government officials and individuals considered close to the ruling party freely hold rallies and large public gatherings without the appearance of any health and safety regulations being adhered to. Zambians have been told that government officials cannot be blamed for people following them around. This has led to many Zambians either resenting any restrictions placed on them or believing that the pandemic is a hoax.

However, when it comes to dissenting voices such as opposition political parties, the restrictions are applied with efficient (and sometimes inefficient) responses. A group of youth protestors attempted to hold a public protest on the socio-economic challenges faced by Zambian youth on 22nd June 2020. The police came out fully armed in riot gear and roamed around the streets in armoured vehicles in an attempt to intimidate the protestors into stopping their protest.

However, the quick-thinking youth took their protest to the bush and beamed it live to an audience of around 300,000 people on their social media platforms. In June there were reports of police arresting opposition members for attempting to hold intra-party elections.

As always, the hardest hit by any crisis are the poor and vulnerable. As with most countries, we are grappling with how to send our children back to school.

Like countries all over the world, our ailing economy has been further crippled by the loss of business and resulting unemployment or underemployment. The government has partnered with donors to provide social protection to the most vulnerable but with 58% of the Zambian population of around 17 million living below the poverty line according to 2015 World Bank figures, resources are stretched. There has been little done to ensure that the rights most affected by the pandemic are still protected, promoted and fulfilled and this is impacting on the overall effectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic.

Ultimately, whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has been a universal crisis, Zambia’s is a crisis of leadership. Our government needs to put the interests of the country above partisan interests and unite the country regardless of the upcoming general elections. We need to take a human rights-based approach to tackling the pandemic specifically and to tackling governance issues generally.

Our “new normal” should leave no one behind. 

Linda Kasonde is a lawyer and human rights activist heading Chapter One Foundation, a civil society organisation that promotes and protects human rights and the rule of law. She is also an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow.

SAHRDN 2020 Human Rights Award Nominations now open

We are seeking nominations for HRDs – an individual or organization working in any of the 16 Southern Africa region  – who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights defending. In these COVID-19 times,  human rights defenders are continuously under pressure globally, it’s never been more important to raise the profile and honor the work, of brave women and men around the world fighting to promote human dignity usually at great personal risk. To nominate individuals or organizations, please download the nomination forms below. Please use the language of your choice as the nomination forms are in English, French, and Portuguese.

The deadline to submit the nomination forms is 31 August 2020