The United Nations defines the charges placed against one of the media practionters in Malawi as “undemocratic, illegal and aimed at suppressing human rights.”

Through its machinery, Joyce Banda’s government sent two heavy armoured Land Cruisers to net Justice Mponda from his house in Chiwembe, Blantyre.

Charges placed against Mr. Mponda include publication of false information and insulting the president.
However, a press release by the United Nations strongly stops governments from making such moves against the media or its practitioners.

According to the statement, provisions like Malawi’s penal code or charges of media practitioners on the basis of false news “unduly limit the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression” which Malawi committed to observe when it ratified the Human Rights Convention.

The statement further stops governments such as Malawi from going ahead with the arrest of media practitioner. “Prison terms [of media practitioners on the basis of false news] are both reprehensible and out of proportion to the harm suffered by the victim. In all such cases, imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights”.

The United Nations is joined by another organisation, Article 19, which fights against detention of reporters on the basis of false news.

“A ban on false news can…easily become a ban on opinions not favoured by the authorities, endangering the free confrontation between different points of view which lies at the heart of democracy”, adding that such charges are mostly intended to restrict freedom of expression.

The arrest of Mponda has put Joyce Banda’s government at par with extremist dictators such as Kamuzu Banda, Muammar Gaddafi or Robert Mugabe all of whom are notable for suppressing reporters critical of their governments.

During Mutharika’s time, Nyasatimes carried various “false news” which did not result in the arrests of anyone; with one titled “Malawi’s Missing President Creates Storm”, alleging that the President was dead in Hong-Kong where the paper argued that the president had gone to seek medication to boast the president’s fertility in the bedroom. This article was followed by another one which carried the title “Resurrected Leader Returns Home”.

No reporter was ever arrested from Nyasatimes which has now turned into a bootlicker of the current regime.
Spin doctors such as Nicolas Dausi and Hetherwick Ntaba were handpicked particularly to quell stories deemed as false.
As suggested by this blogger, this makes Joyce Banda, who has seven press officers and information ministers as more autocratic.

The arrest of Justice Mponda has so far provoked public anger against Joyce Banda’s government which has recently lost popularity and fame, as revealed by a study conduceted by The Nation (newspaper?) where over 71% indicated to be disappointed with poor governance by the PP led government, breaching the constitution and economic mismanagement.

According to Mponda’s lawyer, Chancy Gondwe, this arrest marks the beginning of autocratic leadership. “Freedom of expression is the bedrock of any vibrant democracy. The gagging of the media and threats against Media Practitioners is the beginning of autocracy”, Gondwe told this blogger.

In a turn of events, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Ralph Kasambara, is reported to have conceded that charges placed against Mponda are used to suppress Government critics.

“We all know how these twin offences [sedition or inciting public action against the president] are used by the…administration to harass opposition and civic society leaders; and no such case has been prosecuted to its logical conclusion”, Kasambara said earlier this year.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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