Police have arrested human rights activists Gift Trapence, vice-chairperson of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) who organised the recent demonstrations against the outcome of the May 21 Tripartite Elections, and McDonald Sembereka for alleged fraud.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said in an interview yesterday that Fiscal Police arrested the two following a complaint from an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that police did not mention.
A fellow human rights defender Billy Mayaya, who alongside private practice lawyer Khumbo Soko accompanied Trapence to police, identified the agency as UN Aids which funded a local NGO working on LGBTI issues.
But in a telephone interview from Area 3 Police Station in Lilongwe last evening, Trapence said he was arrested for allegedly operating an organisation which is not registered.
“What they are saying is that I am running an organisation which is not registered with the NGO Board and they think that’s fraudulent.
The organisation they are talking about is Mango Key Populations Network run by Sembereka.
“I am here together with Sembereka and we will spend a night here,” he said, sounding calm.
Ironically, in March this year, the NGO-Board of Malawi wrote Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), where Trapence is executive director and Sembereka serves as board chairperson, indicating that the institution was not registered under the NGO Act of 2001.
The arrest of Trapence and Sembereka comes barely days after President Peter Mutharika, in his Independence Anniversary Celebrations speech on July 6, issued a veiled threat to his detractors whom he accused of plotting to overthrow his administration through illegal means.
Trapence is among Mutharika’s fierce critics and an advocate of human rights, governance and minority rights.
Mayaya alleged that the arrest was political persecution aimed at silencing critics of the administration.
He said police informed Trapence and his lawyer during interrogation that the complaint focused on alleged embezzlement of K7 million deposited in the project accounts of UNAids project.
But Kadadzera dismissed allegations of political persecution, maintaining there was a complaint from an international NGO.