Malawi rights leader in hiding amid gov't threats

AP News
Posted: Jul 29, 2011 1:30 PM
Malawi rights leader in hiding amid gov't threats

A Malawian human rights activist said Friday he is in hiding after being threatened before last week's violent protests in this southern African country.

A security crackdown on demonstrations over bad governance, persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages left at least 19 dead.

Undule Mwakasungula, director of Malawi's Center for Human Rights and Reconciliation, said he feared he might endanger his family and colleagues if he returned home.

He said he went into hiding before last week's unrest, after receiving phone threats and menacing text messages. He told The Associated Press he feared for his safety after an attack on a private broadcaster and pro-government youth armed themselves and took to the streets before demonstrations began.

Despite being in a safe house, he said he is still worried for his wife and three children after the president accused him of trying to overthrow the government.

"My fear is that they might target my family as well, even if they don't find me, I don't know what they'll do," he told the AP.

He said his return would also put fellow activists at risk.

"The government is targeting me, they think I'm the one behind all this... So I'm giving advice from afar." he said.

Mwakasungula said other activists and opposition leaders had also received threats, and three others have gone into hiding.

President Bingu wa Mutharika last week called a number of activists and opposition leaders the "sons of Satan" and accused them of trying to overthrow the government.

Mwakasungula said the recent crackdown has motivated him to keep fighting for the government to deal with the grievances of the people.

Activists threatened Monday to hold more demonstrations unless the president addresses their grievances before Aug. 16.

"Government should engage more with civil society, and be open in terms of how the demands are going to be dealt with," he said, adding that without genuine dialogue, there would be protests on Aug. 17.

Mwakasungula said the organizers want peaceful demonstrations, but violence could be provoked by the police reaction.