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Malawi Rights Activists Petition Police Over Sexual Harassment

A group of women has come forward accusing police of sexual harassment, in Lilongwe. (Lameck Masina/VOA)

Human rights activists have given the Malawi Police Service five days to arrest police officers implicated in the sexual assault of 17 women and girls during post-election protests on the outskirts of the capital on Oct. 8.

The activists gave the ultimatum Thursday, during a protest march to police headquarters in Lilongwe where they questioned the police inspector. Police say they are investigating the allegations.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition organized the demonstration, which attracted thousands of protesters, following the expiration of another five-day ultimatum that rights groups gave police in December to arrest the suspects.

Barbra Banda, chairperson of the NGO Gender Coordination Network, presented the petition to police.

"There are demands that we have made in the petition — that the perpetrators should be immediately arrested and that the course of justice should take its place," Banda said.

The NGO Gender Coordination Network says it has recorded evidence from several victims, including three girls who said police raped them in their homes.

Malawi's Human Rights Commission also has released its findings that police raped at least eight women and sexually violated several others, including girls, during October's post-election unrest.

During Thursday's demonstration, protesters said they did not want police to provide protection, but instead asked the military to provide security during the march.

"You can see this is really a show of anger from the women that they don’t want the people who are being alleged to have committed rape to be the people who also give protection, so there is conflict there," Banda said. "And we are saying police have got a lot of work to do to restore the trust with the public."

Malawi Police Deputy Inspector General John Nyondo received the petition. He said police launched a fresh investigation into the matter on Dec. 31, and it would be complete in a few days.

"As we are talking now, they (investigators) are on the ground," Nyondo said. "They must identify and make sure that all those who were involved and who reasonably think that they did it, must be arrested and the law will take its course and will be prosecuted.”

Nineteen-year-old Agnes, who is not using her real name, is one of the alleged victims. She told VOA that what victims need now is compensation.

"We already have statements recorded by the police preparing for the court case where we will provide evidence and identify those who sexually harassed us so that we should be compensated for what they did to us," she said.

The Women Lawyers Association, which has been offering free legal assistance to the victims, has volunteered to represent the women in court.