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Malawi: Online Journalist Arrested for Allegedly Insulting the President

Online journalist Justice Mponda was arrested Monday morning 15 October 2012, in Blantyre allegedly for insulting the president, publishing false information and criminal libel. Mponda works with the news website Malawi Voice.

Discussing the new development that came in the wake of a new electronic bill (E-bill), journalist Pearson Nkhoma writes:

…one can question whether Malawi is a democratic state or an authoritarian one which demands people to tow to the opinion of the government…..
Ironically, the Malawi Constitution, particularly Section 35 and 36, vehemently affirm that “every person shall have the right to freedom of expression” and that “the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information”.

malawivoice.com journalist Justice Mponda. Photo courtesy of malawivoice.com

He continues:

Through its machinery, the Government of Joyce Banda sent two heavy armoured Land Cruisers to net Justice Mponda who has so far been charged for publishing false information and insulting the president.

The E-Bill seeks to regulate and control online communications in Malawi.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has already expressed worry over the bill and condemned the arrest of Justice Mponda:

[...]the Malawi government today descended on the Media fraternity based on what the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has called “outmoded pieces of legislation enacted during the colonial era to suppress dissent and promote colonial superiority”.
Through its machinery, the Government of Joyce Banda sent two heavy armoured Land Cruisers to net Justice Mponda who has so far been charged for publishing false information and insulting the president.
So far, MISA has issued a strong-worded press statement calling for the immediate release of Mponda.
The statement revealed that MISA “is shocked and deeply saddened with the detention of…Mponda [on the basis of laws which are] archaic and retrogressive for our country”.
According to Misa, “archaic laws have no role to play in a democracy”.
The charter has far called upon government to desist from dragging the country to the colonial era by implementing such laws.

The E-Bill, among other things, defines:

[...]precisely the responsibility of technical service providers and editors of online contents.

The bill's chapter three of Part III, which has the headline ‘Online user's protection and liability of intermediaries and content editors', defines who the editors are in Section 23.

The draft bill describe operators as intermediary, who are any legal or physical person or any entity that provides electronic communications services consisting of the provision of access to communication networks, as well as storing or transmission of information through communication networks.

The said section of the draft bill says the editors of online public communication services shall offer in an open standard, among others, their names, domicile, and telephone number.

Blogger Richard Chirombo on Zachimalawi quotes his Malawian friend living in South Africa who hopes that the case will be handled fairly:

I hope his charges of sedition, insulting President Joyce Banda and misinforming on the Malawi-Tanzania lake-boarder conflict are not authentic. I hope his case will be handled fairly, and that his lawyer will secure bail on second attempt. I feel personally involved and hope I will not be disappointed eventually.
Terrified!

Commenting on Malawi Voice Facebook page, John Kazibwe says:

Banda is following the path of her predecessors like Kamuzu and Bingu. She's indeed a true jezebel

Mafunga hopes for a speedy and fair trial:

Guys, let the law take its course. We need a speedy trial so we can know whats going on. Its not easy for a journalist of his calibre to tell lies, but its not impossible for him to do so. I hope the police has a valid case, otherwise, this is a very bad sign. I also hope Mr Mponda has solid grounds for his stories.
In any case, I hope he is treated with the fair conduct of “innocent until proven guilty”

Malawi Voice has been critical of Joyce Banda's government since she came to power:

Malawi Voice published an article that revealed that Joyce Banda [Malawi's President] had pardoned a serial rapist Agala Festone Kuiwenga, just a month after the Hig Court had extended his 8 year sentence by one more year due to the gravity of the offence he committed. She also pardoned George Allan Nyambi, a relation of Senior Chief Nyambia of Machinga. Nyambi was convicted of murder.
However, in an effort to silence the alternative voice, the Malawian Governmnet descended on the media practitioner on charges which include insulting the president, publishing false stories aimed at generating public anger against the president.

Mponda has been freed on bail and his court hearing has been set for 16 November, 2012.

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