Malawi rights defenders hail Nyasa Times, use of social media

Malawi human rights defenders have hailed the citizens use of social media on the Internet and the role Nyasa Times web-based interactive news is playing to help more people know, demand and defend their rights.

This was said during a public debate broadcast live on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and also streamed online.

The public discussion under the topic “Is the work of human rights defenders and the social media relevant and significant in today’s Malawi?” took place at Crossroads Hotel’s Nyasa Room in Lilongwe on Friday evening.

Panellists at the Human Rights Day debate on social media. Photo by Matamando Manda/ Malawi2014election-twitter

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) chairperson John Kapito acknowledged the use of social media, saying it is “playing a big role” in their human rights campaign.

He said human rights campaigners are “living dangerously” in Malawi and that authorities were determined to “shoot the messenger”, pointing out that they rely on social media and interactive news sources such as Nyasa Times.

Kapito, a fierce critic of the regime, said there is “a devil” in Malawi which he said “is here to stay and kill our human rights” and urged Malawians  to “stand up for your rights.”

Human rights lawyer Habiba Osman of Norwegian Church AID said “it is very important to have social media especially Facebook” saying she had to post an alert on Facebook page when she was arrested with four other activists for carrying a banner in Lilongwe which read that “President Bingu wa Mutharika is a dictator.”

In his take, Chairperson of National Association of Media Institute of Southern Africa (NAMISA) Anthony Kasunda said there is no longer monopoly from government on disseminating of information, saying citizen journalism is the new phenomenon as people tend to tweet on Twitter, post on Facebook, broadcast on YouTube and upload information on blog and online media.

The NAMISA head said during the debate that the Malawi Government is spending sleepless nights in seeking for ways on how to police the new media especially Malawi’s leading online newspaper Nyasa Times.

Kasunda confessed to have been approached by a senior cabinet minister in the Bingu wa Mutharika administration seeking for advice from him on how government could regulate Nyasa Times.

“I remember one senior minister asking me how government can regulate Nyasa Times. There is no way social media can be regulated, the only way is blocking the server and they tried it to [hack] Nyasa Times’ server for few days [during July 20 protests] but they failed. There was a general outcry in the country and Nyasa Times is now back and doing what it knows best,” revealed Kasunda.

Rev MacDonald Sembeleka of Human Rights Consultative Committee heaped praise to social media, saying when his Balaka home was torched by regime thugs “pictures were all over Facebook.”

However, Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Apoche Itimu, said government is not under any strain of pressure because of social media.

Seodi White, executive director of Women In Law for Southern Africa (WILSA) also added her voice. She said social media is playing a “powerful role” and that it is “extremely important tool to promote women’s rights.”

Retired Judge Elton Mawina Singini said people should turn to the courts where they can get recourse if their human rights have been violated.

Also making his contribution was United Nations resident representative in Malawi, Richard Dictus, who commended the role of human rights defenders and their use of social media tools.

Dictus also relayed the message by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon which calls on governments not to block access to the internet and various forms of social media as a way to prevent criticism and public debate.

The live radio debate was ably anchored by Zodiak’s Wisdom Chimgwede.

Human laugh: MHRC boss John Kapito at the debate. Photo: Malawi2014 elections/twitter

Part of the audience at the debate. Photo: Malawi2014elections/twitter

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