CSOs describe freedom of expression under Tonse administration as mixed bag

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and various other stakeholders have described the state of freedom of expression in Malawi as a mixed bag of gains and challenges in the two years of Tonse administration.

The CSOs and stakeholders that, among others, included Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives, Media Council of Malawi and Malawi Human Rights Commission, said this on Friday in Lilongwe during a consultative meeting interrogating the state of civic space in Malawi.

Human rights and governance watchdog, Youth and Society (YAS), organized the meeting to hear actors in human rights and governance on the operating environment for CSOs, media and citizens—focusing on freedoms of expression, association and assembly and access to information.

On gains of freedom of expression, the CSOs and stakeholders cited, among others, critical pastoral letters issued by the catholic bishops, President Lazarus Chakwera often availing himself in Parliament where he was grilled and duty bearers’ increased engagement with citizens through various platforms.

On challenges, they cited, among others, the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act, Flags and Emblems Act, Labour Relations Act and defamation laws, as some of the factors that impinged on freedom of expression in the two years of Tonse administration.

While commending the government on the gains, YAS Executive Director, Charles Kajoloweka, zeroed in on the challenges, saying freedom of expression has actually come under “serious attack” in the two years of Tonse administration.

He cited, among many others, the arrest of investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe and social media influencer Chisa Mbele.

“The number of arrests using cyber security and defamation laws is quite alarming. At Global level, Malawi was actually rated poorly last year.

“For instance, Freedom House Index on freedoms online, it is clear that government has intensified stifling of the freedom of expression online using these laws, which is a danger to our democracy.

“We hope to generate recommendations and work with the government so that we improve the state of civic space in this country.

“The recommendations will inform the state of our Civic Space Report, which we will launch in December this year,” Kajoloweka said.

The CSOs and stakeholders agreed with Kajoloweka, adding that the Tonse administration should maintain the political will it has so far shown towards the promotion of freedom of expression. They also urged the regime to repeal the cited draconian laws impinging on the fundamental freedom.

Jimmy Kainja, a lecturer at the University of Malawi, commended the consultative meeting, saying it kick-started moments of dialogue and reflection for both CSOs and government.

“Out of the process, both sides stand to benefit because there is a chance to correct where things are wrong and continue where things are alright,” Kainja said.

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