Malawi police arrest 2 prominent LGBTI rights activists

Police in Malawi have arrested Gift Trapence, the leader of the country’s main LGBTI rights organization, the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP).

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Gift Trapence, director of the LGBTI rights group Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) (Photo courtesy of Nyasa Times)

Also arrested was the Rev. Macdonald Sembereka, a prominent Anglican priest and activist.

Malawian and international media gave different descriptions of the charges against the two men.

The Nyasa Times cited Trapence’s role in recent protests and President Peter Mutharika’s accusation that Trapence and his associates were plotting to overthrow his government.

According to Malawi24, the charge against Trapence was fraud at CEPED “involving millions of kwacha.” (A million kwacha is worth about U.S. $80,000.)

Malawi24 stated, “State broadcaster MBC reported that an international organization complained to the Malawi Police about Trapence’s alleged fraudulent activities.”

Malawi President Peter Mutharika

Malawi President Peter Mutharika

The timing of the arrests was noteworthy, coming shortly after newly re-elected Mutharika accused Trapence of seeking to turn Malawi into “a lawless society” through protests about alleged fraud during the May 21 election.  The protests were organized by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, where Trapence is co-chairperson and Sembereka is a member.

Trapence denied Mutharika’s claim, saying that the protests targeted  Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah.

“We are not attacking the government; and no one wants to overthrow the government. These peaceful demonstrations are being done to force Jane Ansah to resign,” Trapence said.

However, the nationwide protests were marred by violence when some protesters looted shops, burned tires and battled police.

According to Malawi Freedom Network, “National Police Spokesperson James Kadadzera said police have arrested the two for misappropriation of donor aid money, with the complaint being lodged by the United Nations (UN) Agency.”

That article added, “while attracting eye brows, the arrest of the two human rights defenders has surprised many people, who are wondering as to why, their arrest comes at the pick of their heavy criticism of government, amid dissatisfaction over poor management of elections by the state appointed Charperson of the electoral body, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).”

Source: Rights Africa

This article was revised on July 11 to incorporate additional descriptions of the charges against Trapence and Sembereka.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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