from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE, (CAJ News) – THREE Malawi journalists are facing five-year prison terms over charges media rights groups argue are aimed at reporting on the disputed polls the country held last May.
Investigative reporter, Golden Matonga, of the Nation Publications Limited and the Zodiak Broadcasting Station editor, Steve Zimba, including photographer, Francis Chamasowa, were arrested at the Kamuzu International Airport in the capital Lilongwe, while covering the return of the European Union (EU) electoral observer mission last week.
The two stations are privately-owned.
The trio was arrested despite having the press credentials to cover the event.
Their equipment was confiscated, their footage deleted and they were locked in a police cell in the airport.
Police first charged the trio with “conduct likely to cause breach of the peace” but the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) later changed the charge disorderly conduct under the Aviation Act.
Angela Quintal, Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the arrival of the EU delegation was of public interest, and, for airport police to detain and charge the journalists was unacceptable given they were not committing a crime.
“We urge Malawian authorities to drop the charges immediately and not waste the court’s time on a frivolous case,” Quintal said.
If found guilty, Chamasowa, Matonga and Zimba could be fined 10 000 Kwacha (R195) and receive a prison term of five years.
The EU is this week set to present its final on the disputed election in Malawi.
The opposition believes the poll was rigged in favour of subsequent winner, President Peter Mutharika.
– CAJ News