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Uranium miner Paladin accused of bribery - leading to activist's death in Malawi

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Australian uranium mining company Paladin has been discredited yet again, and with shocking results. Student and activist Robert Chasowa was killed after having published a document in which he accused Paladin of bribing the President of Malawi. The President, facing serious protests by civilians and NGOs, is repressing civilians with increasing violence and threats. Paladin's connections to the President remain unclarified.

Paladin Africa's uranium mine in Kayelekera, Northern Malawi, continues to give rise to alarming calls from NGOs. Human rights activists in Malawi have complained about intransparency and secrecy policies from the beginning of the mine's operations, and reported about being questioned and intimidated by police forces while monitoring radioactive transports. Paladin received frequent negative media attention as labourers died in accidents at the mine and health and safety procedures proved below standard.

International NGOs have accused Paladin of completely disregarding international industry practices concerning disclosure and transparency of practices and policies, including payments to national governments. Also, activists claim that international safety and environmental standards are neglected by the company. Company culture has been called 'neocolonialist' and 'incredibly arrogant' towards those who are affected by mining operations.

Meanwhile, authoritarian President Bingu wa Mathurika, who was democratically elected a few years ago but whose rule has recently developed some dangerous characteristics of a dictatorship, is confronted with nation-wide protests. Only 6% of people in Malawi have access to electricity, poverty remains high, and there have been serious fuel and currency shortages for a long period. The fact that Mathurika purchased a US$ 20 million presidential airplane and has spent millions of public dollars on private occasions such as his 2010 wedding, have not done his public image much good.

July 2011 protests ended up in nineteen protesters shot dead by the police. The President dismissed his entire Cabinet after the July demonstrations and immediately formed a new Cabinet, which included his brother and his wife. Since then, activists have been accused, arrested, and beaten up. The violence and intimidation even included several cases of arson.

The student who was found dead at the University of Malawi was the Vice-President of the organisation Youth for Democracy and Freedom (YDF), who published a weekly political update. The update that caused policemen to enter university, arrest and question the YDF's President Black Moses and probably to kill Robert Chasowa a few days later, was addressed at President Mathurika and questioned his policies and money flows, warning him that he will one day be prosecuted for  multiple human rights abuses. In the update, the YDF asks Mathurika 'Mr President – why should Paladin Africa, a company which is mining uranium at Kayerekera be banking US$100,000 every month to your personal account in Australia-when Malawi is experiencing a cute shortage of forex?'

A few days after, Robert Chasowa was found dead next to a tall university building, his body intact but with a wound on his head. The police officially stated that Chasowa had committed suicide, claiming that he even left a suicide note, implying that he had gotten afraid of the political situation.

Government denies responsibility for Chasowa's death. Paladin denies paying money to an Australian private bank account of Mathurika.

Sources: Nyasa Times, Malawi Voice, Face of Malawi, Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, Malawi Today
Contact: WISE Amsterdam