By Chancy Namadzunda:
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has written Malawi Police Inspector General Dr George Kainja an apparent attack on media freedom in Malawi.
On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, Police summoned, detained and questioned Nyasa Times reporter Watipaso Mzungu for about two hours over a cabinet reshuffle article.
Mzungu was summoned over a story in which he quoted a local organization which criticized President Lazarus Chakwera’s delay to reshuffle the cabinet by March 31, 2021 as earlier promised, calling him ‘a Fools’ Day comedian.’
The summoning and detention of Mzungu comes after officers from Kawale Police Station in Lilongwe also arbitrarily arrested and detained Joy Radio journalist Enock Balakasi on Friday, April 2, 2021, for covering and taking pictures at an incident in Kawale, where police were trying to bring order after a resident threatened to commit suicide.
In a statement signed by Chairperson Gift Trapence and National Cordinator Luke Tembo, HRDC said they are dismayed at the arrests of journalists.
“We have learnt that over the past seven days, the Malawi Police Service has arbitrary detained and questioned two journalists for simply discharging their job.
“Our interpretation, and indeed that of many Malawians, is that these ‘arrests’ are not only needless but also an affront on media freedom. We are tempted to think and justifiably so that these arrests are aimed at nothing but to gag and stifle freedoms of expression, opinion and a free press.
“Inspector General Sir, we do not need to remind you that the Malawi Police Service must aim to serve and not to intimidate citizens, including journalists. HRDC condemns the afront abuse of Police powers and the blatant attack on the media by State forces,” reads part of the statement.
The organization further said the journalists’ detention by the Police is worrying and threatens to erase the strides that we have made as a nation over the past three decades since we attained the right to freely express ourselves without condition.
As such, HRDC has demanded that the Police should not be used as a partisan tool to blocking anyone’s right to freedom of expression.
“The Police should not be used by the Tonse Alliance, or indeed any political entity, to muzzle the media and block freedom of the press. Malawi is a democracy and not a one-party state and it is imperative that the Police fully comprehend the functions of the media in a democracy.
“Over the years, when the media and other institutions were under threat, Malawians stood up against such vices and protested against the use of the Police for advancing political parties’ agenda.
“As such, we retaliate this message today: we do not want the Police to be politicised as if it is a political party organ.
“Over and above, we would like to put it on record that that the government has the primary responsibility to put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression,” reads the statement in part
It further said HRDC believes the tenancy of democracy entails the protection of freedoms such as the freedom of expression.
“Instead of protecting, the Police should not be in the forefront of undermining these freedoms.
“HRDC is expecting the Malawi Police to be professional in executing its job and, knowing your history, Sir, as a tested professional, we expect you to lead in ensuring that the Malawi Police Service maintains a standard that we can all be proud of,” reads the statement