Malawi’s president promises press freedom but critics cite arrests and intimidation
Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera pledged to protect press freedom in comments to journalists invited, for the first time, to the supreme leader’s home for World Press Freedom Day.
At the event, broadcast on Malawi’s state television, Chakwera said if her administration felt unjustly vilified by the media, she would simply file a complaint with regulators or the courts.
“But we must never seek to harm those who offend us in this way or try to deprive them of their liberty through unlawful searches, seizures, arrests or invasive acts such as hacking, harassment and cyberbullying,” Chakwera said. “These things don’t matter. place in a free society and this is a free country.
Invited press freedom campaigners welcomed Chakwera’s words, but said more action was needed to prevent journalists from being mistreated.
Teresa Ndanga is President of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Malawi.
She told the president that politicians and police in Malawi have harassed, arrested and attacked journalists without consequence.
“We have tried to enlighten the public, to approach successive Inspectors General of Police, Secretaries General of political parties on the importance of safeguarding freedom of the media but it is sad to say sir that no one has been prosecuted and there is a spirit of impunity that continues to grow,” Ndanga said. “Your Excellency, we need arrests, we need prosecutions and people need to know that attacking a journalist is a crime .
In April, Malawian police arrested investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe, who said they seized his computer and smartphone and tried to pressure him into revealing sources in a government corruption case.
Gondwe’s detention came just after Malawi’s Attorney General Chakaka Nyirenda said he would take action against those who leaked a document used in his story.
Gondwe’s investigative journalism platform website was then hacked, raising suspicions of possible police involvement.
Social media posts have also come under scrutiny. Malawi police arrested a nurse on Saturday for insulting Chakwera during a WhatsApp discussion on governance.
The nurse has been charged with cyber-harassment and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
The nurse’s arrest comes a week after police in the capital, Lilongwe, arrested a 51-year-old man for allegedly insulting the Minister of Labor in his WhatsApp group message.
Press freedom campaigner Ndanga said the government should repeal laws that infringe on media freedom and are used to punish government critics.
Chakwera said his administration is working to reform these laws.
“Having worked as a legislator myself, I know the process of changing our laws can be laborious and tedious, but I am determined to see it happen,” Chakwera said.
Malawi’s Information Minister Gospel Kazako also urged journalists to be responsible and uphold professional standards if they are to continue enjoying press freedom in the country.