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UN: Human Rights Defenders in Malawi Under Threat

FILE - Demonstrators in Malawi rally in an anti-government protest as members of the country's security forces look on, in Lilongwe, Malawi, April 27, 2018. With elections nearing, pressure on rights activists is said to have increased in the country.

The U.N. human rights office warns human rights defenders and activists in Malawi are under increasing threat as pre-electoral politicking heats up before next year’s general election.

The run-up to next May’s presidential, parliamentary and council elections is becoming nastier and more dangerous for those trying to hold authorities in Malawi to account. The U.N. human rights office reports thugs attacked the offices of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in the capital Lilongwe last week.

Reports say the attackers viciously beat up a guard and threw a gasoline bomb at the center's offices causing an extensive fire. Human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said over the past few weeks, an increasing number of human rights defenders have been intimidated and threatened.

She said one activist received death threats after issuing an anti-corruption press statement. When he went to the police, she said the police ignored his complaint and did not provide him with any protection.

And, she said, more women are being victimized.

“We are also concerned about an emerging pattern of threats and violence against women members of parliament and electoral candidates. For example, one female MP’s car was torched in Mangochi in the south of the country in August,” she said.

Throssell said the current pattern of pre-electoral violence is reminiscent of similar attacks that occurred in 2011 - a year that was marked with heightened attacks against civil society. She warned peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are at risk.

The U.N. human rights office is urging government authorities to investigate the threats and attacks against human rights defenders and to ensure they are able to carry out their crucial work in a safe and protected environment.