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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05LILONGWE274
2005-03-22 15:27:00
UNCLASSIFIED
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

Journalists Charged with "Insulting President"

Tags:   KPAO  PGOV  MI  PDEM 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS LILONGWE 000274 

SIPDIS

AF/S FOR DAN MOZENA, ADRIENNE GALANEK
AF/PD FOR CHANTAL DALTON, DAN WHITMAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV MI PDEM
SUBJECT: Journalists Charged with "Insulting President"

Ref: Lilongwe 259

1.(SBU) Journalists Mabvuto Banda and Raphael
Tenthani, arrested last week for writing stories
regarding "ghost rats" in State House, were released on
bail March 17 after being upbraided and threatened with
re-arrest by Inspector General of Police Mary Nangawale
for portraying the President in a negative light.
Rather than dropping the charges, as expected, Director
of Public Prosecutions Ishmael Wadi charged the two
today with the offense of "Insulting the President,"
which carries a potential prison term of two years.
The DPP was asked in a radio interview why Malani
Mtonga, the generally acknowledged source for the story
and the President's spiritual advisor, was not charged
as well. Wadi responded that while Mtonga may have
provided the information, he was not involved in
publishing the story. There are reports that the
arrests were made without Mutharika's approval, and a
source close to the President told PAO that the DPP was
also not acting at the behest of the President. PAO
emphasized that Malawians and the international
community will believe that these actions reflect
President Mutharika's policies until he repudiates
them.

Government Closes Ranks


--------------------------


2.(U) Following the arrests, Minister of Information
Ken Lipenga castigated the media for poor ethics and a
lack of professionalism during a conference with
editors and journalists in Blantyre on March 18. In
somewhat more blunt fashion, DPP Wadi sent a press
release to media houses threatening to prosecute any
journalist alleged to have violated any provision of
Malawi's Kamuzu Banda-era sedition statutes. The
Democratus, a newspaper widely acknowledged to be owned
by Mutharika, reprinted the press release in a full
page ad. The release cites the sedition act, which
forbids any article or statement that might "bring into
hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the
person of the President," and carries a sentence of 7
years. The offence of insulting the President, which
Banda and Tenthani now face, was defined as uttering
"any words...or publish[ing] any writing calculated to
insult or to show disrespect to...the President." The
press release underscored the penalties for these
violations, which may have a somewhat chilling effect
on journalists tempted to write ghost stories, or
anything else that might be critical of the regime, no
matter how well-sourced.

3.(SBU) Comment: The Government's recent actions,
rather than backpedaling from a rash decision to arrest
journalist, appear to many to be a deliberate attempt
to limit press freedoms in Malawi. While they may not
reflect the coordinated policy of his Government,
President Mutharika's ongoing silence does nothing to
dispel that belief. Besides alienating many of those
who previously supported his reform platform, this
contretemps has provided a potent weapon to Mutharika's
political opponents, who can now claim that his
government is resurrecting the laws--and undemocratic
practices--of the Banda police state. End Comment.