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Malawi online journalist arrested

UPDATE: Online journalist acquitted of charges (MISA, 12 February 2013)

(MISA/IFEX) - 15 October 2012 - Police in Blantyre, southern Malawi, have arrested online journalist, Justice Mponda but are not shedding further light on the arrest. Mponda was arrested in the early hours of 15 October 2012. He is a correspondent for an online publication, Malawi Voice. Computers and other equipment believed to belong to the publication have also been seized.

Contacted for details of the arrest by the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi), the Southern Region Police publicist, Nicholas Gondwa, asked for more time to get information on the matter. When MISA-Malawi also contacted the Limbe Police Station, where Mponda was being held, officers there referred the matter back to Gondwa.

MISA-Malawi Chairperson, Anthony Kasunda, who visited the Limbe Police Station, has since established that the journalist has been arrested for allegedly insulting President Joyce Banda; publishing False Information and Criminal Libel. Kasunda also confirmed that Mponda appeared to be in good health.

However, the journalist has since been transferred, by road, to police headquarters in the capital city, Lilongwe, traveling a distance of about 300km.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Mponda was tricked by one of the police officers in Limbe, a Blantyre suburb, who pretended to be a source with a news tip. Speculation is rife that the arrest is based on Mponda's contributions to Malawi Voice, an online publication most people brand as "unprofessional." Banda's government has reportedly blacklisted the publication for its critical stance against her administration.

The arrest comes at a time when the Malawi government has introduced a draft E-Bill which, among other things, is targeting online publications. This bill is the strongest indication yet of an attempt by the government of Malawi to regulate online media, including social media networks. The E-Bill demands that editors of online public communication services reveal their full identities as well as contact details.

MISA's Programme Specialist for Media Freedom Monitoring and Research, Levi Kabwato, has urged the government of Malawi to protect and promote Internet freedom in Malawi.

"We reiterate that the online publishing phenomenon is not only irreversible but, perhaps more importantly, beneficial to the promotion and protection of democracy, fundamental human rights and good governance in the longer run. And, while we appreciate that issues of Internet freedom and freedom of expression in cyberspace are still very new to countries like Malawi, attempts to control the Internet, as we have seen elsewhere, will simply not work. Hence, if there is any State discomfort over what is being published online, such discomfort must be expressed indeed but it should strictly not come at the cost of freedom," Kabwato said.

MISA continues to monitor the situation and will be issuing further updates.

At this point, would publish: "Home page"

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