Richard Chirombo, AfricaNews reporter in Blantyre, Malawi
Armed officers from Blantyre Police on Friday stood in ambush along the Kaohsiung Road, and then chased Africa News reporter ,Richard Chirombo, through Blantyre market after the reporter discovered their plans and tried to run for safety.
But Blantyre Police Spokesperson, Elizabeth Divala, in an interview, denied knowledge about the development, also saying she did not know anything to the effect that there was any Warrant of Arrest for me.
"No, I don't know anything about that," Divala said.
The officers, who were three, hid behind a guard house which houses Popat wholesalers, GTV Kameko Communications, Armatile Roofing Sytems, Link Building Products and Flair Flooring and Furnishings along the Kaohsiung Road. The road is located where the Upper Blantyre Inde Bank is located, along the old Mandala road.
Two were in civilian clothes carrying small fire arms, while one, the only one who had an AK 47, was in Police uniform.
The development follows inquiries from some Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers from Blantyre Police Station about the residence of this reporter on Thursday. The officers asked a prominent Blantyre-based freelancer journalist about where I stay, telling him it was because I write for Nyasa Times.
According to the journalist, the CID Police officers also told him that, since articles purportedly written by this reporter had at various occasions appeared on the internet-based publication, then I must have information about some meetings opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) officers have had in the recent past.
Said he:" Some CID Police officers said they have been looking for you because you write on Nyasa Times. They said they wanted to question you on some of your articles: they also said that some senior UDF party officials had a meeting at night about two or three weeks ago, and that, since you write for Nyasa Times, you know everything about that meeting, and you were there. They then asked me about where you stay so that they should arrest you."
Another reporter also collaborated being asked by CID officers from Blantyre Police about my whereabouts, adding that, from the look of things, the officers wanted me so quickly.
Apparently, I have never worked for Nyasa Times,,and have never received even a single penny from the internet publication.
Neither do I have any knowledge about the said night meeting, for whose purpose they did not elaborate.
The chase happened when this reporter was coming from Mandala Road, after branching off from Ginnery Corner. I had met a civilian officer who, upon seeing and recognising me because of my picture found on my Africa News Profile, phoned someone else.
Then, as I went on unperturbed towards muds Residence, which houses Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, and CFAO, then upper Inde Bank branch towards the fence of the building they lay invisibly in ambush, I saw someone come from the opposite direction and enter the fence of the buiding.
Twenty meters after I passed the entry to the gate, the three police officers came out, and walked almost on their tip toes so they could not be detected. Then, I dont know why, I looked backward and one of them beckoned me, saying "Hey Nyasa guy, we are looking for you. Wait".
I did not wait but hastened my steps. Then did the same. But, somehow, I managed to reach Blantyre Market. The market has two car parks; a lower one, which accommodates over 30 vehicles, and another on the upper side. This one accommodates less than ten vehicles.
I took the upper park, but the officers went on and stood at the entry of the lower park. After which they started sharing tasks, telling one to go behind the market fence, one through the gate, and the other to take the upper park. I was just watching them, then started walking faster.
They then begun chasing me, literally, calling on me to stop. I, however, managed to run, reached where they sell cabbages on the other side of the market, went behind a brick fence, and through Word Alive Ministries (Church) where people were having a lunch hour service.It was around 13:00 hours.
I joined the congregation but, five minutes later, saw two of the police officers at the back. As people stood to pray, pretended to bend my back and went out. One followed me, but lost track of me as I went into, and hid in, the toilet. I was there for almost an hour, all the while calling fellow journalists, informing them about the ordeal so that they could be with me and see what would happen to me.
There is a river to the left side of the church, just outside as people go toward the Catholic Institute (CI).when I looked that side, I saw the officers, standing there, playing with their phones, apparently playing some 'bluff y meal' on me. I then went the other side, saw them following me, and, luckily, saw someone in a vehicle who picked me and dropped me at Vanimali House.
I then went to the Malawi Law Society (MLS), where I met, and explained the ordeal , to the president, Mandala Mambulasa.
Then on Saturday, CID officers followed me as went to the National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) Annual General Meeting which was being held at the Blantyre Sports Club. I did not take long after informing some journalists about what was happening to me.
This contradicts what Ruling Democratic Progressive Party ( DPP) officials- Secretary General Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba and Spokesperson Nicholas Dausi- say that, since state president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, took over office on May 20,2004 there has never been a journalist arrested because of their duty.
The two officials maintain that, under no circumstances will a journalist be arrested in Malawi, as Mutharika values press freedom.
Malawi does not have an access to information law: though the constitution says then press shall have the freedom to publish freely in, and without, the country.
Efforts by Namisa to have a bill of that nature passed have so far proved futile, despite assurances from the Ministry of Information. Now, with the next general elections just a stone-throw away, prospects are that the proposed bill may gather dust for a more while.
There was recently an outcry from the media after the State house accused private radio station, Joy, of employing foreigners, threatening to deport the station's manager Peter Chisale, on the basis that he was Zambian. Ironically, Chisale hails from the Southern Malawi district of Machinga.
It follows a myriad of accusations that Joy Radio was airing "slanderous and libelous articles and playing derogatory songs about the president".
Then, there is a case where Daily Times Editor, James Mphande, and reporter Mike Chipalasa got arrested by the police on allegations of publishing a 'false story' that claimed that Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo had accused government of hiring rigging experts for the May 19, 2009 general elections.
Another Blantyre Newspapers reporter, Wanangwa Tembo, was arrested by the police for taking pictures of law enforcers who had gathered outside Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) offices in Mzuzu, where one cop was arrested for soliciting a bribe.
Maxwell Ng'ambi of Nation Publications Limited (NPL) was also arrested by police for allegedly interviewing former UDF Publicity Secretary Sam Mpasu at Maula prison.
According to former Namisa chairperson Martines Namingha, in his report during the 2008 AGM held on Saturday, said "the above cases of police arresting journalists and not taking them to court are a cause for concern to us. We feel police rush to arrest journalists without proper investigations; hence subject them to psychological torture".
One of the officers, apparently using a fictitious name after getting my e-mail address, email@example.com on the net, e-mailed me as follows (apparently to corner me):
--- On Wed, 8/20/08, Stonoldy Ramuel
From: Stonoldy Ramuel
Date: Wednesday, August 20, 2008, 6:27 PM
I read some of your articles at African News.com and was very interested in most of them. I wonder if we could meet and talk more on some of the articles. I stay in Blantyre. How can we meet please?
At the moment, plain-clothed police officers are tailing me that I am living in fear.
NOTE TO THE READER: THAT WAS THEN (AUGUST 22, 2008) AND THIS IS NOW. WE ARE FREE NOW!