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Malawi: Public outrage over journalist’s arrest and detention

THE Malawian government has come under fire from rights defenders and foreign governments for the arrest and detention of investigative journalist and director of Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) Gregory Gondwe in Blantyre on Tuesday over a story the media outlet published on its website https://investigativeplatform mw.org/2022/03/30/government-pays-sattar-for-restricted-contract-under-acb-probe/ which alleged and exposed corrupt dealings, Joseph Kariya reports from Blantrye.

Gondwe was arrested on the morning of April 5 and placed under police detention and released the same day around 5pm. Police impounded his equipment, including a laptop and mobile phone. He disclosed that police officers pressured him to disclose the sources of information published by his organisation but he refused to reveal them.

‘Revealing our sources is against media ethics, nowhere in the world can journalists do that. Based on the stories that we published, now government is demanding that I tell them my sources. Where does that happen? That is war against Malawian journalism,’ he told Malawi’s leading daily, The Nation. ‘In journalism if you only reveal your source that will be the death of journalism and if government decides that this is the way it wants to treat the media, then it is very unfortunate.’

His arrest came only a few days after Malawi’s Attorney General, Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, told an independent newspaper that he would take legal action against those who leaked information on his legal action to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), in connection with payments to companies owned by United Kingdom-based businessperson and corruption suspect Zuneth Sattar. Sattar is being investigated in the UK for alleged corruption.

In a statement, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) said it only invited Gondwe for an interview on ongoing investigation police are conducting.

‘The Malawi Police Service (MPS) this morning invited Mr. Gregory Gondwe, a journalist working with Platform for Investigative Journalists (PIJ), to South West Region Police Headquarters for an interview on the ongoing investigations police are conducting regarding an online news story published by PIJ and other related issues,’ said Assistant Commissioner of Police James Kadadzera, who is also MPS spokesperson.

Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter described Gondwe’s arrest as unfortunate. MISA Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga said it was wrong to arrest journalists at a time the Access To Information (ATI) Act is in place and protects journalists and their sources of information.

There were also calls for Gondwe’s immediate release from the Media Council of Malawi and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). In a statement the HRDC, said journalists should be allowed to report freely without fear.

‘We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release of [Vitus] Gregory Gondwe and the return of all the confiscated items. The Constitution of [the Republic of] Malawi clearly provides for, and guarantees, media freedom. Section 37 of the Constitution states that all citizens have the right of access to information held by the State or any of its organs at any level of government in so far as such information is required for the exercise of his right,’ said the HRDC statement signed by its chairperson Gift Trapence.

The UK and United States governments also condemned Gondwe’s arrest and expressed concern over the conduct of police to raid the offices of the media NGO.

‘We note that he now has been released but call for the immediate return of the confiscated equipment and respect for privacy of any information contained therein. A free media is one of the pillars of democracy,’ reads the statement in part which has been posted on Facebook and twitter.

Malawian Minister of Information and government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, said he will engage his counterpart at Ministry of Homeland Security to establish what led to the arrest and detention of Gondwe.

‘This is not the personality and character of this administration to intimidate or create uncomfortable environment for journalists. We are a known beneficiary of free press,’ Kazako said. ‘So, I have engaged my colleague the Minister of Homeland Security to ensure a common platform that will reflect the DNA of this government, which is respecting the set freedoms and laws governing provided spaces which different disciplines and citizens enjoy.’


Joseph Kayira

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