Malawi leader agrees to investigate student death under pressure

Mutharika has come under pressure from donors

Mounting pressure on President Bingu wa Mutharika has forced him to announce plans to appoint a commission to investigate the death of a university student who may have been killed due to his anti-government activism.

The European Union became the latest group to ask the Malawi government to insitute and investigation into the death of Robert Chasowa, 25, who was found dead on campus last month. Their demand came after the Malawi Human Rights Commission applied for an inquest into the matter.

Police ruled the death a suicide but civil society groups said it was a political murder and accused authorities of trying to cover it up.

The Chasowa case has piled pressure on Mutharika, who faced international condemnation after his security forces killed 20 anti-government protesters in July, which led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for his cash-strapped country.

“The president wants an investigation so that we can clear speculation being said by the opposition that the murder was political and government was behind the killing,” Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said.

“This is a God fearing government that cherishes the values of democracy and therefore cannot be engaged in the persecution of its opponents.”

Activists believe he was killed by the state because of his writings in a campus newsletter where accused the president and his officials of corruption.

Mutharika also faced pressure from the European Union, a major source of aid, to investigate.

“The European Union is concerned about a number of recent incidents of apparently politically motivated violence in Malawi. In particular, the violent death of student activist Robert Chasowa is worrying,” it said in a statement this week.

Activists, threatening a new round of protests, want the president to respond to a petition calling on him to account for his wealth, address the chronic fuel and dollar shortages that have added to the misery of the poor and restore diplomatic ties with former colonial master and major aid donor Britain.

Malawi, which relies on foreign aid for about 40 percent of its state budget, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars of overseas assistance due to the crackdown on the protests and Mutharika’s increasingly strained international ties.

“We know that the young man received several death threats because of what he was writing about. Police did nothing about this,” Billy Mayaya, a human rights activist, said.