The United Nations on Thursday called on Malawi authorities to free two organizers of protests against alleged election fraud who were arrested on suspicion of stealing money from AIDS programs.
“UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] respectfully requests the immediate release of the two members of the Mango Network, Mr. Gift Trapence and Mr. Macdonald Sembereka, from police custody,” the U.N. program to end AIDS said in a statement.
Mango is a network of non-profit groups in Malawi.
Trapence and Sembereka are members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and have been at the forefront of the nationwide protests that have gripped the country since the re-election of President Peter Mutharika in May elections that opposition parties have dismissed as fraudulent.
They were arrested on Tuesday for alleged misuse of UNAIDS funds.
Their arrest came just days after Mutharika claimed the protests were aimed at unseating his government and warned that the organizers would be dealt with.
According to a letter from the U.N. offices in Malawi, a UNAIDS staff member had on July 5 reported an alleged incident to the police.
“UNAIDS regrets unnecessarily involving the authorities in Malawi in its outstanding issue with the Mango Network,” it said adding they “have amicably reached a resolution over the issue.”
“UNAIDS has not engaged in any legal action and believes there is no need for any legal action,” it said in a statement.
Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, was re-elected by 160,000 votes ahead of main challenger Lazarus Chakwera.
Over the weekend, dozens of people were arrested after Mutharika accused the protesters of plotting against his government.