Activists in Malawi suspended planned anti-government protests, following the abduction Wednesday night of one of the protest organizers. A witness says men grabbed Sylvester Namiwa as he was leaving a press conference, pushed him into a car and drove away. Malawi's president has condemned the abduction and police say they are investigating.
The planned protests were aimed at pushing President Lazarus Chakwera to give up his immunity from prosecution and also limit his presidential powers, as he promised during the last campaign.
Mundango Nyirenda is a member of the Center for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives, or CDEDI, which organized and then suspended the demonstrations.
“We did that out of respect for Namiwa because we don’t know where he is. Then how can we be able to hold a demonstration while we don’t know where he is? And we don’t know what has happened to him. Maybe they have killed him so we decided to cancel it,” said Nyirenda.
Edwin Mauluka, who is CDEDI’s spokesman, says he witnessed the abduction. He says five men seized Namiwa from his car as he was leaving a press conference on the protest.
“His car was blocked by a vehicle which has no registration number. And when he stopped to avoid hitting the vehicle which was in front of him, immediately some bouncers — could be more than five — came out of the vehicle and surrounded Mr. Namiwa’s vehicle and started to force the doors open, and pulled him out of the car and started to beat him up. And they took him into their car and they sped away,” said Mauluka.
Mauluka says attempts to chase the vehicle proved futile.
Rights campaigners say the abduction was an attempt by Malawi’s government to silence dissenting views.
However, Malawi’s minister of homeland security told lawmakers Thursday that she believes Namiwa’s disappearance was a ploy by opposition parties to tarnish the government’s image.
A government spokesman, Gospel Kazzko, said the government had nothing to do with the incident. Speaking to a local radio station Thursday, he said the government cannot condone acts of hooliganism.
“There is no way this government can do that. Remember we are not afraid of our critics. In fact, we look at critics as part of the fertilization mechanisms for us to move forward," said Kazako. "These are people that are acting as a mirror, these are people who are always reminding us what we should be doing.”
President Chakwera on Thursday condemned the abduction and called for a speedy investigation into the matter
Harry Namwaza, deputy spokesperson for Malawi Police Service, said police are doing just that.
“... We can’t disclose when we are going to conclude our investigation or what we have found at this time. The only statement we can say is that we are investigating into the matter,” said Namwaza.
Meanwhile, despite the cancellation of demonstrations in the capital Lilongwe, protests went forward in other areas, where police fired teargas to disperse people who allegedly wanted to loot shops and vandalize property.