MISA Malawi Chapter would like to notify its members and the general public that it has requested His Excellency the President of the Republic of Malawi Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to publicly denounce acts of violence, assault and intimidation of journalists by members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), United Democratic Front (UDF) and institutions of government.
The letter was submitted to the President through the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), Capital Hill, Lilongwe on Monday, March 16, 2020.
Apart from requesting the President to denounce acts of violence and intimidation of journalists, we have also notified the President that we are in the meantime discouraging our members from covering events perceived to be risky, including those of the ruling DPP.
The letter to President Mutharika follows what we consider as continued hostility towards the media by members and officials of the ruling DPP, the Police as well as some members of the general public.
The most recent incident involved supporters of the DPP and the United Democratic Front (UDF) who barred reporters from Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) from covering a parade the two parties had organised in Lilongwe on March 13, 2020. We have footage showing a vehicle carrying ZBS reporters surrounded by DPP and UDF supporters banging it whilst jeering and hurling insults at the reporters. We also have footage showing supporters of the two parties threatening to use a razor blade to deal with any journalist found doing what the supporters deem “foolish”.
We have also highlighted the following serious media freedom violations which we have documented within the last three months:
1. Nation Publications Limited (NPL) Journalist Bobby Kabango was threatened by former deputy minister Honourable Charles Mchacha who used all sorts of swearwords in a recorded phone conversation with Mr. Kabango who was pursuing a story on how the then Deputy Minister allegedly acquired public land in Limbe, Blantyre.
2. On February 18, during the recent meeting of Parliament, some DPP Members of Parliament (MPs) threatened to beat up reporters accusing them of being spies and agents of the opposition. Honourable Sameer Suleiman even barred journalists from interviewing Leader of the House Honorable Kondwani Nankhumwa.
3. DPP Lawmaker Honourable Chimwemwe Chipungu forcefully snatched and deleted footage from a Kulinji.com reporter Gladys Nthenda’s phone. The reporter had taken footage of a scuffle in parliament.
4. Continued assault of journalists by the Malawi Police with the most recent case being on Tuesday March 10, 2020 when journalists who were covering the arrest of some human rights activists at Lilongwe Police Station were assaulted and chased from the premises.
5. Arrest of journalists at Kamuzu International Airport for allegedly covering arrival of the European Union Elections Observer Mission Delegation “without permission”. The journalists, Golden Matonga of NPL, Steve Zimba and Francis Chamasowa of ZBS were released on bail following MISA Malawi’s intervention.
6. Assault of Tuntufye Radio journalist Patricia Kayuni by protesters in Chitipa district on Friday, January 10, 2020. Kayuni was assaulted for allegedly taking pictures of the demonstrations near Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices in the district. The protesters beat up Kayuni, tried to undress her and broke her mobile phone.
7. NPL Journalist Golden Matonga and Kulinji.com’s Gladys Nthenda were also assaulted by demonstrators in Lilongwe and the lady journalist was even stripped off her clothes.
These actions were directed at the media by DPP officials, ruling party functionaries, the Malawi Police and the general public. We find these developments disturbing and a threat not just to the journalists, but to press freedom in general.
It is more disheartening when the Police and even cabinet ministers, who are supposed to be exemplary and defenders of the law, are found wanting and ranking highly as perpetrators of media freedom violations.
There is a perceived danger that the pattern of actions by the President’s administration could be construed as deliberate to muzzle, frustrate and even destroy the free and independent media in Malawi.
We hope the President will publicly denounce acts of violence, assault and intimidation of journalists and send a clear message to would be perpetrators of the President’s commitment to promoting media freedom and freedom of expression in the country.
We stand by our motto that Journalism is not a crime and constitutional guarantees on media freedom and freedom of expression – which are also enjoyed by the citizenry through the media, should not just exist on paper. Government should always uphold and respect the Constitution and its provisions.