- The Director of Public Prosecution Fahad Assani has written the Malawi Police ordering it to discontinue arbitrary arrests of journalists, and warning that such acts are unconstitutional. Malawian journalists until now have enjoyed little protection when carrying out their work.
The Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today celebrates these developments in Malawi as a "victory" for press freedom in that country. MISA investigator Zoé Titus for a long time has kept a monitoring eye on the fragile situation in Malawi.
Ms Zoe confirms that prosecutor Assani's sentiments had come hot on the heels of his revelation late in October that he would not prosecute 'Daily Times' reporter Frank Namangale.
The police had picked Mr Namangale for authoring an article in which he quoted police sources as saying that President Bakili Muluzi's son was arrested for armed robbery. Police later clarified that the arrested person was a nephew to President Muluzi.
Journalist Namangale was originally charged with publishing false news likely to cause alarm to public. Mr Assani however later found it incorrect to maintain these charges, given the constitutional rights of the press.
In a new letter to the Regional Commissioner for the South, copied to the Police Inspector General, Officer-in-Charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch and other senior police officers, Malawi's Director of Public Prosecution quoted section 36 of the Constitution which ensures the right to the media to report freely and be accorded access to public information.
- This chapter cannot be tampered with by any authority except by a referendum, writes Mr Assani. "This emphasises the need to strictly guard the freedom of the press."
Ms Titus of MISDA further quotes Malawi's Director of Public Prosecution as saying this article of the constitution did not in any way suggest that the President was privy to the armed robbery.
- To report an arrest of any member of a wider family of the State President, though regrettable, for committing a crime, cannot be said to be alarming at all, his letter said.
The Director of Public Prosecution then advised the police not to pounce on the wrong people if they are to be called professional, according to Ms Titus.
- If the state wants to take up issues then the people to be taken to task are not the press persons but those that offend the law, Mr Assani's letter said. "Do not shoot the messenger; go and deal with the sender of the messenger."
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