MISA Malawi condemns arbitrary arrests, detentions of journalists by police

By Chancy Namadzunda:

MISA Malawi has condemned the continued arbitrary summoning, arrests and detentions of journalists by the Malawi Police.

On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, authorities at the Malawi Police Service (MPS) Headquarters in Lilongwe summoned, detained and questioned freelance journalist Watipaso Mzungu for about two hours over a story published on Nyasa Times on April 2.

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. Mzungu was at the police headquarters from around 8 to 10am. Police released Mzungu unconditionally after taking a caution statement.

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.

The officers detained Balakasi for over two hours for covering and taking pictures at an incident in Kawale, where police were trying to bring order after a resident threatened to commit suicide.

The police accused Balakasi of carrying out his duties without seeking permission. They deleted pictures from Balakasi’s phone and later released him unconditionally.

“MISA Malawi condemns the actions by the police in the strongest terms and believe the summoning,
arrests and detentions are an attack on media freedom.

“We have previously engaged the Inspector General of Police, Dr. George Kainja, over such violations. The current trend puts into question the commitment to protect press freedom that the IG had personally expressed.

“We are also reminded of the many times police authorities have promised to discipline officers who
have attacked journalists on duty. We are yet to see this materialize.

“The Malawi police must understand that media freedom is enshrined in the Republican Constitution
and their duty is to protect and not violate it,” reads part of the statement signed by MISA Malawi Chairperson Teresa Temweka Ndanga.

Nsanga said continued summoning, arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists for simply doing their job will unfortunately reflect badly on the country’s performance in the yearly press freedom indexes.

“MISA Malawi would therefore like to appeal to President Chakwera’s administration, through the Ministries of Homeland Security and Information, to work with the Malawi Police Service inaddressing our concerns,” she said

Meanwhile, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has condemned the police action saying Malawi is no longer a one-party state which was characterised by rule of darkness, fear and death.

“We are concerned with the detention and subsequent intimidation of Mr. Watipaso Mzungu who writes for a number of news outlets including Nyasatimes.

“According to our findings, Mr. Mzungu was detained simply because he wrote a story in which described President Chakwera as a joker and a time waster due to his failure to honour his public promises, such as the announcement of a new cabinet.

“We look at the detention of Mr. Mzungu as a futile attempt by Dr. Chakwera’s leadership to instill fear in journalists in the country, a development that can easily be construed as a tactic to stifle media freedom and freedom of expression in Malawi.

“Let the Inspector General (IG) for the Malawi Police Service (MPS) and President Chakwera know that Malawians will never be intimidated with such acts by the police, in a democratic state where everyone is supposed to enjoy freedom of expression.

“It is for this reason that CDEDI is challenging government that Malawi will never slide back to dictatorship and that CDEDI and it’s leadership will never retreat or surrender.

“We shall always endevour to safeguard our hard earned democracy which Malawi Congress Party (MCP) vehemently opposed in 1992,” reads part of the statement signed by he quoted the CDEDI Executive Director Sylvester Namiwa.

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