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Malawi Crackdown Undermines Democracy

A Malawian soldier patrols the deserted streets of Lilongwe, on July 21, 2011, a day after mass protests against Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Government’s attempt to prohibit marching and ban on live independent media coverage of the demonstrations undermine rights.

Citizens in Malawi have taken to the streets to protest economic and political conditions in the Southern African nation. The government’s attempt to prohibit its citizens from marching and the Communications Regulatory Authority’s ban on live independent media coverage of the demonstrations undermine rights cherished by all Malawians.

Once one of the region's fastest growing economies, conditions in Malawi have deteriorated in recent months as a shortage of foreign exchange led to severe fuel shortages and rising prices for food and other necessities. Under a questionable legal injunction, police were mobilized to stop planned peaceful demonstrations in the capital, Lilongwe, and other major cities. Violence erupted and multiple deaths were reported. To prevent further unrest, authorities halted a mass funeral of eight protestors killed during the strife. These were the first violent protests in Malawi in more than a decade and the situation remains somewhat tense.

The United States strongly condemns the use of force by government authorities to prevent peaceful demonstrations, as well as the ban imposed on private radio stations reporting on the protests. We also are disturbed by reports of violence targeting individuals based on their political or social affiliations.

In the agreement signed April 7 making his nation eligible for U.S. aid under programs administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, President Mutharika himself committed to uphold democracy, good governance and freedom of expression. Actions taken by the police and army during the protests call that pledge into question.

We call on the people and the government of Malawi to remain committed to the principles of democracy and to express disagreements through solely peaceful means.