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MISA demands immediate release of arrested Malawian journalist

What happened

MISA demands the immediate release of the Malawi journalist, Macmillan Mhone who was arrested on Monday 8 April 2024 over a story that he wrote in August 2023.

Mhone, who is now employed by the Nation Publications Limited, had written a story for Malawi24, which alleged that businessman Abdul Karim Batatawala was facing various corruption and fraud charges.

The story revealed that the courts had blocked Batatawala from dealing with the government, but the businessman had allegedly set up proxy companies to continue dealing with the authorities.

To add insult to injury, Mhone has reportedly been transferred from Lilingwe to Blantyre, where he is expected to be tried.

The journalist is expected to be charged for publishing news likely to cause fear or public alarm. He was arrested by the police’s Cyber Crimes Division.

Legal precedence in Southern Africa shows that criminalising the publication of news likely to cause fear violates constitutional provisions and does not not amount to a reasonable justification for limiting the freedom of expression.

In Zambia, in 2014, the courts struck down Section 67 of the country’s Penal Code, prohibiting the publication of false information likely to cause public fear, violating the Constitution as it did not amount to a reasonable justification limiting freedom of expression.

In 1999, a Zimbabwean court ruled that criminalising the publication of news likely to cause fear exerts an unacceptable “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, since people will tend to steer clear of the potential zone of application to avoid censure.

MISA’s position

MISA has argued ad nauseam against laws that criminalise the publication of false news.

Any laws that seek to regulate freedom of expression should lean more on the side of entrenching fundamental human rights in line with the constitutional provisions and regional and international instruments that safeguard these freedoms such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Revised Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, among others.

MISA is worried about a pattern that is emerging, where journalists who report on corruption are instead themselves arrested.

Just recently, Gregory Gondwe, an investigative journalist, was forced into hiding after revealing the Malawian government’s planned purchase of 32 armoured vehicles from a company implicated in corruption.

The arrest of Mhone and the threat to detain Gondwe have a chilling impact on freedom of expression in Malawi and engender self-censorship, which are both antithesis to democracy.

Investigative journalists are the lifeblood of democracy, as they hold those in power accountable and promote transparency and good governance.

MISA fears that, with elections due in 2025, there is a real risk that arrests and attacks on journalists may escalate, blighting Malawi’s nascent democracy.

We, therefore, call upon Malawian authorities to immediately release Mhone and drop all charges that he is facing.

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