Malawi journalists living dangerously, Misa tells UN

Malawi’s Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Malawi) has reported to the United Nations Human Rights Committee that journalists were receiving death threats allegedly for publishing articles that are deemed critical of President Bingu wa Mutharika and his government.

The UN committee met Misa-Malawi, the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Malawi Law Society (MLS) in Geneva, Switzerland on October 24.

According to a statement for MISA Malawi Chapter, its  chairperson Anthony Kasunda capitalised on the meeting to inform the UN that at least 22 journalists were beaten and assaulted in the line of duty during the July 20-21 anti government demonstrations.

Kasunda: Told United Nations that Malawi journalists getting death threats

He explained that since 2005, at least 10 journalists have been arrested based on archaic pieces of legislation adding that other journalists have been arrested on flimsy charges or without charge.

“Journalists continue to receive death threats from government sympathisers…Media practitioners from private media are targeted for their critical news articles on the President and his government. MISA Malawi feels this is an attempt to muzzle the press,” Kasunda said.

He pleaded with the Committee to intervene in Malawi by engaging government to allow the media to operate freely without fear or intimidation and for government to repeal Section 46 of the Penal Code.

Kasunda also asked the committee to engage Malawi’s leadership to openly condemn the threats issued to journalists.

He seized the opportunity to inform the UN on the serious threats that Section 46 of the Penal Code as amended poses to Freedom of Expression and the press as guaranteed in sections 35 and 36 of the Republic of Malawi Constitution, respectively.

He told the committee that Section 46 of the Penal Code is open to abuse and denies people their right to information as it instils fear in publishers thereby promoting self censorship. Kasunda said MISA Malawi Chapter considers the amendment as a deliberate attempt to weaken the role of the media as the fourth estate.

UN committee was also briefed of the efforts by MISA Malawi and other partners to have the section repealed. The chairperson indicated that government has repeatedly said the amendment is an improvement of the old law and that it was good for the media.

He, however, explained that MISA Malawi already listed the section as one of the archaic laws in Malawi’s statutes inconsistent with the country’s democratic dispensation.

The civil society organisations told UN that President Mutharika was the most serious rights violator in Malawi.

They said Mutharika’s administration acknowledges, encourages and organises the intimidation and unlawful killing of individuals.

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