Malawi online journo case starts with hitches

The Lilongwe Magistrate Court has deferred to December 14 next month a case involving  case involving online journalist, Justice Mponda, who was arrested on Monday, October 15, 2012, for allegedly insulting President Joyce Banda and publishing false information.

The court was set to start hearing the case on Friday however, state prosecutor Happy Mkandawire told Magistrate Patrick Chirwa that they were not through with investigations.

Mkandawire therefore told the court that his team would require three more weeks to come up with prosecutable evidence against the journalist.

In his ruling Magistrate Chirwa then gave the state three more weeks they asked for in order to conclude with their investigations.

Lawyer Chancy Gondwe: Complaints its economically mischievous

Speaking outside the court after brief court hearing, defence attorney Chancy Gondwe told Nyasa Times that the state is playing what he called hard-to-get games.

He complained that it is becoming costly to travel a distance of over 500 kilometers from Blantyre to Lilongwe only to find that the state is not ready with its case.

“This is frustrating and economically mischievous because our friends are not showing keen interest to finalize with their investigations. Anyway we will wait for the three weeks and if they come up with other stories then we will take legal action,” explained a visibly annoyed Gondwe.

Meanwhile, Nyasa Times had earlier reported that the future of the case looked bleak following the ousting of former top detective Bob Mtekama who was leading the investigations of the case.

Mponda was arrested on October 15 last month following a spate of false articles on Malawi Voice.

He was initially arrested on three counts: Insulting President Joyce Banda, Publishing False Information and Criminal Libel. Formally, however, he is only answering to the charge of ‘Publishing false news likely to cause public fear.’ It is not clear why the State  dropped the other charges.

Among the controversial stories that saw the light of day include the one alleging that Malawi leader Mrs. Joyce Banda had stepped down, the article stemmed from a fake Facebook account of the President which Mponda is alleged to have been using.

The other one alleged that China had withdrawn its plans to construct the multimillion dollar state-of the-art Olympic stadium in Lilongwe.

While the other false  article is the latest Malawi-Tanzania border wrangle where the paper alleged that Malawi Government has given 48 hours to Tanzanian High Commissioner Patrick Tsere to leave the country.

In all instances, the Malawi government through its spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu had to come out in open to deny the reports.

Mponda’s case t is likely to open up debate, in Malawi, on the role of new media and the application of professional media ethics in the provision of online news services.

Online publishing in Malawi is still relatively new but questions are arising regarding the conduct of several online media. The government of Malawi has introduced a Bill which, if it becomes law, will regulate online media as one of its key functions.

The journalist is currently released on bail.

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