Misa-Malawi calls arrest of journo ‘retrogressive’: Repeal archaic laws

Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi) has condemned the arrest of Malawi Voice’s online editor, Justice Mponda and says it considers his detention and  treatment as unconstitutional and retrogressive for Malawi’s nascent democracy.

Mponda, 27, was arrested by heavily armed police officers in the early hours of Monday at his Chiwembe residence in Blantyre for “insulting the president, publishing false stories and criminal libel.”

Human rights activist and member of the Civil and Political Space Platform, Billy Mayaya , said the journalist remains “innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law.”

Mayaya who is also a fierce critic of the Banda administration said: “The burden of proof lies with the state to prove these serious charges of criminal libel.”

Kasunda: Police conduct amounts to torture

He said: “Therefore we expect that Mr Mponda’s legal rights will be respected and that he will be granted bail as soon as possible as the police carry out their investigations.”

MISA-Malawi chairperson Anthony Kasunda noted in a statement that Malawi Voice online is a publication most “people brand as unprofessional and blacklisted by the Banda administration.”

Howevet, the media watchdog said the arrest of the journalist is based on“outmoded pieces of legislation enacted during the colonial era to suppress dissent and promote colonial superiority.”

Among others, Mponda has been charged with insulting the president based on the Protected Names, Flag and Emblems Act, a law which Misa- Malawi said is “archaic and retrogressive” for  the country.

“It is important to note that in any democracy, free speech is paramount and affords the citizenry, including the media, a chance to debate and shape public opinion. Without free speech, the media cannot effectively perform its watchdog role and check abuse of power and safeguard democracy,” the media watchdog said.

MISA Malawi said it has been in the forefront campaigning for repeal and review of laws that restrict free speech, such as Criminal Defamation and the Protected Flags, Emblems and Names Act, which have both been used to arrest Mponda.

“We have brought these laws to the attention of relevant authorities and reiterate our plea for their urgent review. In fact, that some of these laws – Protected Flags, Emblems and Names Act for example, still quote a fine to be paid in Pound Sterling (1000 Pounds, about Mk480, 000) and not in Malawi Kwacha supports the fact that the laws remain stuck in the repressive colonial era and proves the urgency with which legal reforms must take place in Malawi, forty-eight years after independence,” reads the statement.

It pointed out that several other laws of this nature and age exist in Malawi; the Official Secrets Act (1913), the Printed Publications Act (1947) and the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act (1968).

Misa- Malawi nonethelsses commended the Joyce Banda administration for repealing Section 46 of the Penal Code – which empowered the Minister of Information to ban any publication deemed not to be in the public interest, as defined by the minister, which was enacted by the previous DPP regime.

But the media group urges government to take  “a critical look at other laws that negate on the Constitutional guarantee to free speech and media freedom as provided for under Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution.”

It adds: “Archaic laws have no role to play in a democracy and we call upon government to desist from implementing them and dragging the country to the colonial era.”

Misa-Malawi also express shock with the conduct of the police who reportedly transferred Mponda 340 kilometers away from Blantyre to Lilongwe, Malawi’s Capital.

The watchdog said such conduct by Police was tantamount to “torture.”

Misa-Malawi has since asked  the authorities to investigate the matter thoroughly and release Mponda on bail within the required 48 hours.

“We have always supported a win-win relationship between the media and government and strongly appeal to authorities to engage relevant bodies such as MISA Malawi and the Media Council of Malawi (MISA) whenever disagreements arise between government and the media.

“Arresting journalists will only tarnish the image of the government and ruin the benefits of dialogue. Only dialogue between government and the media would provide a more enabling environment for media freedom, freedom of expression and ultimately citizen empowerment.”

Mponda becomes a second journalist to be arrested in the Banda era. Clement Chinoko, a journalist working for Blantyre Newspaper Limited (BNL), was arrested on 26 May 2012 for a false story that appeared in 20 May edition of The Sunday Times stating that two women from City of Blantyre allegedy got engaged.

Banda became president of this impoverished southern African nation in April, after Bingu wa Mutharika’s death.

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