For Immediate Release
Tuesday, February 5/2/13
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, is in the country to hold a consultative meeting on decriminalization of laws limiting freedom of expression in Malawi.
The consultative meeting will bring together organizations that have worked on decriminalization of laws limiting freedom of expression in Malawi in the past, those that are well positioned to do so in the future, as well as representatives of media groupings whose activities are most jeopardized by the existence of these laws. The meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow (Wednesday) at Crossroads Hotel, from 8:30 am.
The meeting is designed to build on past efforts and lessons in decriminalizing free speech and explore existing opportunities for immediate advocacy and/or litigation and roadmap for a sustained advocacy campaign on decriminalization of freedom of expression in Malawi.
Commenting on the Special Rapporteur’s visit, MISA Regional Chair Anthony Kasunda has described it as a milestone in the quest for media freedom in the country.
‘This visit is a great opportunity for the media fraternity, freedom of expression advocates and human rights defenders in general. This is the first time that Malawi has hosted such a high level advocacy mission and we intend to capitalize on this mission to drive our local media freedom and Access to Information agendas forward.’
‘The Special Rapporteur’s visit will mark the launch of a concerted effort to decriminalize freedom of expression in Malawi, an approach that often lacked in our past efforts. As a sector, MISA Malawi believes that we have over the years tried to challenge a number of laws inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on media freedom and freedom of expression to varying degrees. MISA and a number of scholars including professor Kanyongolo have documented several laws limiting free speech but our efforts have often been disjointed. I trust that this campaign will set the pace and tone for a concerted and sustained campaign that will build on past experiences and efforts to exploit the current window of opportunity and push for decriminalization of free speech in Malawi,’ Kasunda said.
The Special Rapporteur’s visit has been organized by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA), MISA Malawi and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.
The Joyce Banda administration has been heralded for taking a bold step to repeal section 46 of the Penal Code, which empowered the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed not in the public interest. The President also gained international praise for calling on Members of Parliament to repeal laws that are repressive and deny Malawians their right to freedom of expression, during the opening of the 43rd Session of Parliament in May 2012.
As MISA, we believe that free speech is paramount in any democracy 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 corruption and safeguard democracy.
Malawi, however, has several laws that limit free speech including the Protected Names, Flag and Emblems Act, 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 but at the same time requested a critical look at the other laws that negate on the Constitutional guarantee to free speech and media freedom as provided for under Sections 35 and 36 of the Republican Constitution.
We have hope in the leadership of Mrs. Joyce Banda and believe that the campaign on decriminalization of free speech will be a success and that her Excellency Mrs. Joyce Banda will also walk the talk and turn Malawi into a true democracy by repealing all laws that limit free speech.
MISA Regional Chairperson,