Information and Civic Education Minister, Patricia Kaliati, has warned that the Malawi government will lay treason charges against any person found responsible for the escalating cases of arson in the country. Malawi has in the past weeks witnessed rising number of cases of burning down of property belonging to leaders of the civil society organizations, an opposition political party member and market vending stalls. Three weeks ago the offices of the Institute of Policy Interaction (IPI) belonging to civil rights leader Rafik Hajat went up in frames before the house of another outspoken rights activists’ Rev. MacDonald Sembereka was petro bombed. The two have been frontline members in pressurizing president Mutharika’s government to address the country’s economic and political problems including lack of forex, fuel, electricity, water and essential health drugs and enactment of ‘draconian’ laws that suppress the enjoyment of human rights by the citizenry.

Over the past weekend the house of estranged state vice president’s opposition People’s Party member, Salim Bagus and market stalls in the capital city Lilongwe and Blantyre, the country’s commercial city were also caught in bewildering inferno. Kaliati has accused civil society and opposition political party leaders as being the architects of the fires which she claims are part of their plans to orchestrate a revolt and bring about change of government. “Anyone found to be responsible for the fires will be charged with treason because we know this is a deliberate plot by people who want to take over government unlawfully,” squared up Kaliati. Pressing the regionalism button, the hothead minister, said government had noted that civil rights activists globe-trotting to denounce the Mutharika administration and agitating for mass demonstrations on September 21were from the northern region of the southern African nation. “Why is it that this issue is being pursued by people from one district when the country was supposed to be one?” she asked.

But Billy Banda, executive director of Malawi Watch said the problems facing Malawians were universal. “All the problems that the civil society presented to government are genuine concerns of Malawians and the government has to address them,” he said. Meanwhile, Malawi Watch, IPI and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) have announced that they will not participate in the September 21 protests. Banda said his organization has decided to pull out of the demonstration vigil because “there is a likelihood that others want to take advantage of the situation and go on a looting spree,” he said. However, Hajat has said his organization was working at re-establishing its burnt offices. Hajat said he was personally going to attend the vigil but would not be involved in the organizing of the events to take place.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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