The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has said the year 2016 got blighted by disturbing trends that threatened to wipe away the gains registered in freedom of expression and replace them with the reign of threats and terror orchestrated by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) against government critics or those with dissenting views.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said in a statement summarising the year 2016 and emailed to Nyasa Times on Wednesday December 28, 2016 that the civil space got narrow when members of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) got arrested for an allegedly seditious WhatsApp chat.
“The fact that there seems to be no progress on the case only buttresses CHRR fears that government was just out to silence critical voice in the country. Quite undemocratic,” reads the statement.
It also denounced arrests recorded in the year against human rights activists Billy Mayaya and two others for demonstrating against persisting electricity black outs.
“The country has also witnessed threats being issued to Kamlepo Kalua, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Peoples Party for the simple reason that he voiced out his concerns and pointed out some irregularities on different issues bordering on corruption and good governance,” CHRR said.
It also cited newspaper report that the State House has been targeting its critics and embarked on a campaign to silence all Malawians it views critical to its administration.
CHRR also pointed out that there is state sponsored propaganda machinery against those who holds dissenting views to government.
“Through different social media and online forums such as Malawivoice, Malawi independentblog.com, blantyrepost.com among others, the officials at State house have been fabricating stories about different Malawians ranging from economists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders to journalists, among others,” noted CHRR.
Recently, these state sponsored websites have showed pathological hatred in smearing Prophet Shephered Bushiri, economist Henry Kachaje and commentator Stanely Onjezani Kenani.
CHRR also noted that it is on record that the DPP Regional Governor for the South, Charles Mchacha asked President Peter Mutharika at a political rally which was broadcast live on MBC to authorize the youth wing of the party known as the cadets to silence the critics.
It also added that during the recent rally at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe, DPP acting general secretary Francis Mphepo threw caution to the wind by asking the newspapers “to go to hell”.
“The statement, coming from a powerful political figure like him, is a serious set-back to media freedom in the country,” Mtambo said.
To highlight government attempts to muzzle the media, CHRR said recently, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) fined Zodiak Brodcasting Station (ZBS), a private radio station, for granting what it deemed unbalanced media coverage.
The fine was imposed against a background that ZBS granted a lot of space to Kamlepo Kalua, an opposition legislator who spoke against the maladministration.
“This is not the first time that MACRA has attempted to stifle media freedom in Malawi more especially targeting the private media houses. This is despite the fact that state broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation (MBC) favours the government in its propaganda programs targeting opposition and critics, and goes undisciplined by MACRA. These double standards are a regrettable professional scandal, to say the least,” CHRR said.
The human rights watchdog is therefore asking the DPP-led government to stop using state resources to abuse and silence its critics including the media.
“Government ought to take progressive steps in guaranteeing media freedom by among others, signing the Table Mountain Declaration. Furthermore, government ought to adopt a law protecting human rights defenders in conformity with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 and the Commission’s Resolutions on Human,” Mtambo said.
Dausi shrugs off criticism
Minister of Information, Communiction and ICT, Nicholous Dausi has since shrugged off CHRR criticism over freedom of expression in the country.
Dausi prefers to paint a rosier picture , saying government is promoting freedom of the press.
“Media freedom is enshrined in Malawi’s Constitution under Section 36. It says “the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information. We respect the law and and this is applied,” said Dausi.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :