The Malawi authorities are very concerned about their image abroad and keep reiterating their commitment to press freedom. The state president himself has made numerous statements to reassure the international community and has personally intervened in certain affairs. For example, in September 2001 he declared that journalists were free to write what they wanted to. "No journalist has ever been detained for writing the truth", said Anthony Livuza, an information ministry official, early in the year in a letter to Reporters Without Borders.
In June the state mediator, Enock Chibwana, granted compensation of 30,000 kwacha (about 520 euros) to two journalists jailed in 1999. Mabvuto Bandan from The Daily Times and Horace Somanje from Malawi News were arrested and detained for several days after publishing an article citing opponents who, during a demonstration, had asked the army to take over power in the country. The mediator confirmed that this detention had been illegal since the two journalists had remained neutral and had simply reported statements made in public.
In early November the privately-owned Daily Times reported that the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) had drawn up a list of journalists who "discredit the party". According to the daily, the UDF intended to use a youth league to get at these journalist. The list included the names of journalists from The Daily Times, The Nation and the BBC.
Eight journalists arrested
Six journalists from The Daily Times were arrested by police on 12 February 2001 for "publishing false news likely to disturb public order". That day’s issue had contained a story about serial killings in the suburbs of Blantyre. Three of the reporters - editor-in-chief Mike Kamwendo and two reporters, Mabvuto Bandan and Peter Makossah - were charged and released on bail late in the night. The other three - Wallace Mposa, Limbani Moya and Mac Donald Chapalapata - were released after five hours of interrogation. No charges were laid against them. On 22 March President Bakili Muluzi ordered the police to drop charges against the Daily Times journalists.
The Dispatch editor-in-chief Martines Namingha was arrested at his home on 25 May for publishing a story headed "What would happen if Muluzi died today?". The newspaper’s printer, Kalera Mhango, as well as four newspaper vendors were also arrested for "facilitating the publication of false news". They were all released a few hours later.
Chinyeke Tembo, managing editor of the privately-owned weekly The People’s Eye, was hit by unidentified assailants on 2 September after being thrown out of a minibus. The assailants accused him of publishing false news about the state president. The police intervened and escorted the journalist to the police station but the situation quickly turned against him. After being questioned on his newspaper he was charged for "publishing false news likely to disturb public order". Chinyeke Tembo was detained for four hours before being released on bail.
Three journalists attacked
In April 2001 Patrick Mphonda, reporter for the government agency Malawi News Agency (MANA), was hit by supporters of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP). According to the police, the assailants burst into the agency’s offices and threatened to kill the journalist if he did not stop writing critical articles about the MCP president. MANA had put out a dispatch stating that the president of the opposition party had been content to hand out sweets to flood victims in the country.
Kenneth Ndanga, journalist with The Sun, was assaulted early in the morning on 26 July by about ten individuals armed with sticks and knives, while he was distributing the latest edition of the weekly. According to the journalist, his assailants told him to stop writing against the new opposition party, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), or else they would kill him. He was stabbed in his forearm and badly bruised. The Sun had published several articles criticising opposition personalities, especially former cabinet minister Brown Mpinganjira, NDA leader accused by the press of corruption. Mr. Mpinganjira denied any involvement in the attack. The state president’s office told Reporters Without Borders that an inquiry had been opened into this affair.
Brian Ligomeka, correspondent for the South African agency African Eye News Service, was assaulted by members of the UDF youth league on 12 August. The journalist was covering the arrival of foreign heads of state for a Southern African Development Community summit, at Blantyre international airport. Several individuals forced him out of the airport buildings and accused him of being a spy for the opposition. They threatened to kill him and then beat him up. The journalist suffered from bruises on his jaw and his leg. He said afterwards that a policeman eventually came to help him and took him to the closest police station. "I would like to thank him very much because other policemen just looked on as UDF officials beat me up. He saved my life", said the reporter. The police said they had opened an inquiry but nobody was arrested. On the previous day a journalist with the magazine Pride, John Saini, was threatened at the airport by UDF leaders. They warned him that he would be attacked if he did not stop publishing critical articles about the government.
Pressure and obstruction
Unidentified persons assaulted newspaper vendors on 14 August 2001 in the streets of Blantyre and seized their copies of the privately-owned weekly The People’s Eye. The men then went to the premises of the weekly where they confiscated 300 copies of the latest edition. Managing editor Chinyeke Tembo closed the editorial offices "until the tension had died down". The People’s Eye had published an article criticising President Bakili Muluzi’s silence regarding a possible third mandate. The state president is currently serving his second five-year term of office and several senior party officials have asked him to stand again in the next elections, although the constitution limits the number of mandates to two.
On 10 December the printing works Design Printers refused to print the latest edition of the weekly The Chronicle due to an article on the death of a famous singer in police custody in Lilongwe. The manager of Design Printers said that he would probably have been arrested had he published that issue.