Journalist interrogated for saying Malawian president is a comedian

Malawian police recently summoned a journalist for interrogation after the reporter wrote an article that was critical of President Lazarus Chakwera.

Watipaso Mzungu, the chief reporter of the privately-owned news website Nyasa Times, wrote an article where he described Chakwera as a “Fool’s Day comedian” for deferring a planned Cabinet reshuffle.

According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), a police officer called Mzungu saying he was wanted for questioning the following day. The officer did not specify the nature of the questioning and told Mzungu not to bring a lawyer.

The police officers asked the journalist about his article, his motivations for writing it, and whether he had manipulated the statements of an activist he quoted in order to attract public attention, the CPJ continued.

The officers also demanded that Mzungu gives them the unedited draft of his April 2 story. The police officers did not allow him to contact his lawyer or editor.

Furthermore, the police said the article constituted a criminal insult of the President and an attempt to undermine the authority of the Head of State.

Malawi Police Service spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said Mzungu was neither detained nor summoned for questioning and that he had merely been “invited for an interview” over an ongoing investigation. He said the journalist had cooperated with the police and was released unconditionally.

MISA Zimbabwe is concerned that Malawi and other Southern African countries continue to resort to insult laws to shield presidents from criticism.

History has shown that insult laws have been used to gag the media and impinge on freedom of speech and expression.

Insult laws are archaic and anathema to democracy.

MISA Zimbabwe urged the government of Malawi to drop such laws and promulgate laws that promote freedom of expression and of the media, while at the same time not shielding the president from scrutiny.

The media civic body also encourage the Malawian authorities not to pursue the charges against Mzungu