Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Monday, October 15, 2012
For immediate release 
The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is shocked and deeply saddened with the detention of journalist Justice Mponda who was arrested in Blantyre, Southern Malawi, in the early hours of Monday, October 15, 2012 for allegedly insulting President Joyce Banda and Publishing False Information.
Mponda works as a correspondent for an online publication, Malawi Voice. But it is not yet known which articles Mponda has been arrested for.
The police have kept a tight lid on the arrest. Southern Region Police Publicist Nicholas Gondwa asked for more time to get information on the arrest and Limbe Police Station - where Mponda was being kept, referred MISA Malawi to Gondwa.
Our investigations show that Mponda has been charged with three (3) counts: Insulting the President, Publishing False Information and Criminal Libel and has since been transferred to the Capital Lilongwe, 340 kilometers from his home.
Reports are rife that the arrest is based on the Journalist’s articles in the  Malawi voice, an online publication most people brand as unprofessional and blacklisted by the Banda administration. 
MISA Malawi considers the arrest and treatment of Mponda as unconstitutional and retrogressive for Malawi's nascent democracy.
The arrest of Mponda 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 is archaic and retrogressive for our 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. That is why MISA Malawi 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.
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). We commended government 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, but at the same time requested 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.
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.
We are also shocked and disturbed with the conduct of the police who have transferred Mponda 340 kilometers away from Blantyre to Lilongwe, Malawi's Capital. This is torture and a clear demonstration by the law enforcers that they are not through with investigations and taking deliberate steps to subject Mponda to mental and physical torture. Government has all the resources at its disposal and clearly capable of keeping Mponda in Blantyre. Subjecting Mponda to mental and physical torture is unconstitutional and  should not be condoned in our day and age. 
We have hope in the leadership of Mrs. Joyce Banda and strongly encourage overzealous cohorts to desist from making decisions that would ruin her administration and tarnish the good image her administration has tried hard to build. 
We call upon the authorities to investigate the matter thoroughly and release Mponda on bail within the required 48 hours. We also appeal to the Police to desist from subjecting Mponda to further mental and physical torture.
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.

Anthony Kasunda