Worldwide Protest Against the Atrocities
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES have written literally tens of thousands of letters to Malawi officials in recent months, including those to President Banda. They have asked that something be done to relieve the suffering of their Christian brothers and sisters. But as the atrocities become common knowledge, and are verified by more and more independent sources, many besides Jehovah’s Witnesses are now adding their voices to the growing protest to Malawi officials.
For example, United States Senator Frank Church spoke out against the persecution, and said in the Senate: “I ask unanimous consent that an editorial from The Wall Street Journal and an article written in Zambia by Dial Torgerson for the Los Angeles Times which reveals what is happening to the Witnesses be printed in the [Congressional] RECORD.” There was no objection, and so these articles were entered into the Congressional Record on page S224, January 21, 1976.
Then George E. Brown, Jr., of the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke out in Congress, his words being entered in the Congressional Record on page E262, January 28, 1976: “A law in Malawi, which has a one party government, states that every citizen must have a party card. The Witnesses refuse to carry one, and thus have subjected themselves to persecution.”
Brown then said: “I urge my colleagues to read the following articles on this subject, which I would like to insert in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, and to consider taking a more active role in trying to change the course of such events by direct communication with government officials in Malawi and by altering the priorities of our foreign policy. Our policies should be a reflection of our horror, not a mirror of our apathy.”
And more has been done than just enter press reports regarding the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses into the Congressional Record. Many U.S. government officials have written directly to Malawi President Banda about the matter. One such letter, you will observe, is reproduced on this page.
Other governments, too, have expressed themselves on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their parliaments. On February 17, 1976, Bent Honoré, a member of the Danish Parliament, telephoned the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He wanted the persecuted Witnesses in Malawi to be informed that the Danish Parliament had discussed their plight “so they will know they are not forgotten. So this can be an encouragement to them.”
Also, the atrocities against the Malawian Witnesses prompted extended discussion in the Lower House of the German Parliament at Bonn in March 1976. For instance, responding to a question, Minister Wischnewski said, in part: “The federal government has taken the reports of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi as an occasion to have the ambassador express the German opinion to the Malawi government.”
Result of Investigation
As noted in the previous article, the Senior Press Officer of the World Council of Churches (WCC) says that that organization has made its own investigation of the atrocities against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi. As a result, the letter reproduced here on these pages of Awake! was written to President Banda by the head of the WCC, Dr. Philip A. Potter.
Then, in June 1976, the WCC also issued a press release regarding the matter. The release said that Dr. Potter “has appealed to Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, President of Malawi, to release members of the sect now detained in camps or arrested and held in jail. Dr. Potter urged that they be sent back to their villages to lead a normal life.”
In addition, the press release noted that Dr. Potter had “requested a reconsideration of the attitude and policies of the government and the Congress Party to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and urged conversations with their leaders with a view to exploring how best a lasting solution can be found to the problem.”
The protests to the Malawi government in behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken different forms. For example, there is The Examiner article of April 6, 1976. This Independence, Missouri, newspaper explains that Blantyre, Malawi, is Independence’s sister city, and says:
“Money has been solicited and sent to Blantyre. Dr. Banda even visited Independence in 1968 and blessed everyone with the tip of a lion’s tail at a luncheon at Stephenson’s Apple Farm. Like it or not, we are in quite thick with the notorious doctor and his city of Blantyre.”
The Examiner writer, Keith Wilson, Jr., then protests: “I would suggest that the city council either cancel out the relationship post haste, or following the philosophic lead of Dr. Banda, start preparing a suitable ceremony to commemorate Adolf Hitler’s birthday on April 20.”
Yes, what has been happening in Malawi has caused great concern to many people who are personally acquainted with President Banda. Some of these people remember Dr. Banda from his school days in the United States and in England, where he attended various universities and received premedical and medical training.
One of his former teachers at Wilberforce Academy, Flora Isabel Askew, exclaimed on hearing about Dr. Banda’s treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Oh, my goodness, how could he have deteriorated into something like that?” She recalled that when she met Banda in the 1960’s “his whole hope was that he was going to be able to free his people.”
Appeals for Consideration
Many letters to President Banda contain moving appeals for him to furnish relief to innocent Malawian citizens who are suffering unjustly. For example, this February a former associate of his in England, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, wrote to Dr. Banda. He asked to be forgiven if he was wrong in addressing him as doctor. But he explained that “it is the way we used to address you, long years ago, in Community House, Clyde Street, Glasgow.”
Lord MacLeod is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet he went on to say that what prompted his letter were “recent press reports here regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi.” He then noted regarding the Witnesses: “They are well known, throughout the world, for their peaceful, industrious lives. . . . So do please reply to me personally. If I only get an official reply from one of your subordinates, I can only assume you are not approachable on the subject and must draw my own conclusions.”
An especially moving appeal was made to President Banda in a letter written on May 26, 1976, by Dr. Walter King:
“Please let me identify myself before I take the liberty of speaking to you about a matter which is close to my heart. In 1968, I was the surgeon who was President of the Medical Board of Piedmont Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.A., when that hospital closed its doors.
“Through certain church associations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), we learned that your fine, developing country, among others, was one whose medical facilities were sufficiently limited at that time, so that our material . . . would find utilization in service to humanity, much as it had in our own little hospital. . . . Our decision was prompt to ship our small but heartfelt offering to serve Malawi’s medical needs. . . .
“You and I are scientists by profession, and it is difficult for us to understand how a person could have such a deep belief in any religion that they would die sooner than accept a blood transfusion, but I assure you that from our experience in this country, these people are indeed so dedicated to their religion (and this is one of their beliefs along with separation from politics and war) that they will lay down their lives rather than breach it. They will not accept blood even for the most serious surgery. Perhaps you may feel, as I do, that if we guide this type of dedication into national pride and citizenship, the rewards will more than pay for the tolerance of their admittedly opinionated beliefs. Therefore, in my efforts to imagine myself in your position as President of Malawi, it occurred to me that it might be a stroke of political genius to win the united effort of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a group to prove themselves in Malawi to be the kind of good citizens any country would be proud to have. This will come in their appreciation for your hoped for tolerance of their religious convictions.
“It may be that I am peculiarly qualified to make this request of you, Mr. President, because of the fact that I know these people from a physician’s standpoint. It so happens that, though I am a Catholic, I believe in their rights to refuse blood in my surgical management of their problems, and at the same time they repay me for my tolerance by adhering to even my smallest requests for their early ambulation, belief in my medical advice, and complete faith in my sincerity. In my business dealings with them, I have found them to be 100% honest, gutsy to the point of exercising spectacular courage, and loyal out of all proportion to necessity. If I were the leader of a whole nation of these people, I sincerely believe it would pay in dozens of ways to permit their freedom of thinking, as they set an example for others to stimulate national pride by their industry, Christianity, and honesty, even to paying taxes.”
On May 31, 1976, President Banda announced the forming of a new twelve-member cabinet, Dr. Banda himself becoming Justice Minister. Is it possible that Dr. Banda has been misinformed regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses? Has he been led to believe by past or present advisors that the Witnesses are an obstinate, lawless people? Those who are personally acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses know that such charges are false.
True, to persons who fail to look at the matter from the viewpoint of Jehovah’s Witnesses, refusing to buy a simple, inexpensive political card may appear to be obstinate behavior. Yet to the Witnesses, worship of God is involved. It reminds one of what occurred in ancient Medo-Persia, when certain men who hated Daniel, the Hebrew, had a law passed. This law decreed that, for thirty days, any person petitioning any god or man except the king would be thrown to the lions.
Daniel did not want to face those lions, any more than Jehovah’s Witnesses want to go into prison, or be beaten or raped. Yet Daniel immediately prayed to Jehovah God. He was not a lawless, obstinate man. But worship of God was involved, and such worship rightly takes priority over any temporal authority. (Dan. 6:4-10) Even Jesus’ apostles, when faced with a similar situation, said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
Actually there could be a simple solution to the problem. If a card were prepared that is simply an identification document, then the Malawian Witnesses would gladly purchase it, since the Witnesses in many lands pay for and carry such a card in obedience to the law of their own countries.
But perhaps the best solution would be simply to allow Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the interests of freedom of worship, the liberty not to buy a political card. Many nations take pride in the fact that their citizens are free to hold a variety of opinions without being persecuted. And these nations are respected by other nations for tolerating diversities of belief.
With the good of all in view, Christians world wide will be praying concerning President Banda. They will do so in keeping with the Bible encouragement to pray “concerning kings and all those who are in high station; in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness.” (1 Tim. 2:2) The more than 20,000 Witnesses in Malawi can indeed be a powerful force for good and peace to the country if they are permitted to carry on unmolested in their Christian worship.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have appealed officially to President Banda in writing to discuss such possibilities with their representatives. If any persons individually wish to express to President Banda by means of telegrams or letters their feelings on this situation, his address is as follows:
His Excellency the Life President of Malawi
Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda
Central Government Offices
Private Bag 301
Malawi, Central Africa
[Box on page 7]
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, D. C. 20515
February 4, 1976
His Excellency the Life President of Malawi
Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda
Central Government Offices
Private Bag 301
Malawi, Central Africa
Dear President Banda;
I am compelled to register with you, as a responsible leader of Malawi, my total indignation and outrage at your Government’s treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The chronology of religious persecution -- petty harassments, brutal beating, sexual abuses, family separations, inhumane imprisonments, and murders -- as reported by credible American newspapers, is a heinous policy bordering on genocide.
I am familiar with the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their universal disavowal of temporal political organizations and political parties, and the sincerity which comes with holding those tenets. Anyone familiar with these people knows that they are conscientious neighbors and citizens, and under no circumstances cound they be considered a threat to any existing political order.
The free exercise of religious belief is an essential component of liberty and freedom. It is recognized as one of the most basic human rights; and is, in fact, guaranteed to Malawians under your 1966 Constitution. I appeal to you to reconsider and reverse your policy, and to halt this persistent violation of internationally recognized human rights. Not to do so can only earn you the contempt of defenders of human dignity everywhere in the world.
Member of Congress
[Box on page 8, 9]
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
His Excellency Ngwazi
Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda
President of Malawi
Private Box 301
Malawi, Central Africa
During the last few months we have been receiving representations and reports about the plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi and the information we have on this matter causes serious concern to us.
These reports particularly refer to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have returned recently to Malawi from the neighbouring countries. There is substantial evidence to show that they have been subjected to considerable harassment and persecution by local officials and members of the Youth League. Reports have come to us that many were tortured. The information we have received about Jehovah’s Witnesses in detention camps near Dzaleka is most disturbing.
We are not unaware of the difficulties that have existed during the last several years between the Jehovah’s Witnesses in your country and the political authorities there. We also realise that their teachings on, and attitude to, the state have in part at least contributed to this tension. The world Council of Churches, as you are aware, has always encouraged participation by all Christians in the welfare of the countries in which they live.
But the fundamental human right of such participation also involves the freedom to dissent as well as the freedom to refuse to join any particular political grouping or party. We, therefore, feel that your country’s apparent policy of compulsory membership in the Malawi Congress Party is a curtailment of human rights and that punitive measures against those who do not take membership are unjustifiable. The WCC has attempted to uphold human rights everywhere and for all and we express our deep concern about the Jehovah’s Witness in Malawi, especially those who are reported to be in detention or under arrest for refusing to buy membership cards of the Congress Party.
It is quite possible that some of the reports which have appeared may not be correct. But as we have indicated there is much evidence of continuing hardship caused to the Jehovah’s Witnesses by local officials and members of the Youth League, etc.
We therefore appeal to you to take appropriate measures by which those now detained in camps and those arrested are released and can go back to their villages to lead a normal life. We further request you to reconsider the attitude and policies of the government and the Congress Party to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and to engage in conversation with their leaders in the country with a view to exploring how best a lasting solution can be found to the problem. We assure you of our support and cooperation for such efforts.
With all good wishes to you and to the people of Malawi.
P.S. In view of the interest of the wider public in this matter we intend to release the contents of this letter after a fortnight.
[Picture on page 11]
Dayton Daily News Fri., April 9, 1976
Friends distressed at turnabout by Banda