The Limbe Magistrate Court has acquitted journalist Ernest Mahwayo, who was arrested in September last year for taking pictures at the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Ndata Farm without permission.
Mahwayo, a sub-editor for Mkwaso newspaper – a vernacular publication published by Montfort media, a publishing Company owned by the Catholic Church in Balaka district, eastern Malawi, was slapped with a charge of conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
In a brief ruling, Magistrate Annie Chikhazula observed that there was no legal solid basis on the part of the state that could warrant further prosecution.
She therefore ordered the police to return the journalist’s digital camera and passport which were confiscated on the day of the arrest.
“Having heard from both parties, I am of the view that the state has failed to prove to this court beyond reasonable doubt on the reason why this court should continue with the case.
“I hereby acquit Mr. Mahwayo on all charges brought in this court. The police should therefore return the camera and passport before end of business today,” ruled Chikhazula amid cheering and hugs from Mahwayo’s family members and friends.
Mahwayo’s attorney, Lusungu Gondwe told Nyasa Times that the verdict is clear that the case was politically motivated.
He also branded the counts his client was charged with as “flimsy” aimed at muzzling the press – by the then DPP government – which he said is against the United Nations charter.
“The ruling means that my client (Mahwayo) is a free man. As I said when he was arrested last year, the whole case was political. I mean our penal code even the constitution does not bar any person from taking pictures of a house belonging to president,” said Gondwe, adding, “Even if Bingu was alive today I really don’t think the court would have continued with the case because I have trust and confidence with our judiciary it is very independent.”
The hugely built journalist was arrested on September 12 and spent close to a week in police custody where according to reports was subjected to police beating and torture.
He was only released after a public outcry more especially from various media houses; media watchdog Misa Malawi and the civil rights groups.
The arrest of Mahwayo was just the tip of the iceberg and proved the level of ruthlessness of the Mutharika administration which in its eight year rule practiced politics of ruling by decree and used the police to the maximum in thwarting any dissent.