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Malawi23 May 2002

Ruling party militants demonstrate against opposition press journalists

Reporters without Borders has condemned the actions taken by an advisor to the President, Dumbo Lemani. The latter assembled a group of between 1,000 and 3,000 militant members of the ruling party (the United Democratic Front - UDF) on 20 May 2002 in front of the publishing firm Blantyre Newspaper Limited, which publishes two pro-opposition newspapers, the Daily Times, and the Malawi News weekly. The President’s advisor incited the crowd to threaten two journalists, Mabvuto Banda and Akimu Kaingana, who had written articles that were published which opposed President Bakili Muluzi’s candidacy for a third presidential term in 2004. According to the Malawi Constitution, the Head of State cannot serve more than two terms.

"This action is totally irresponsible on the part of the presidential advisor who, logically, should be serving as the guarantor of public safety. The demonstration might have had very adverse consequences for the journalists. One of the targeted journalists later told Reporters without Borders, that he "will now be living in fear for his life," stated Robert Ménard, the organization’s General Secretary. Reporters without Borders called upon the Malawi President to issue a public apology and to promise that such attacks on freedom of the press by militant members of his party will never occur again.

On the day of the demonstration, all of the journalists with the Blantyre Newspaper Limited shut themselves up in their offices until the crowd dispersed, happily without any serious incident. One employee, however, was assaulted while trying to write down the licence plate numbers of the demonstrators’ vehicles.

In addition, Reporters without Borders reminded the President that, in November 2001, the Daily Times reported that the UDF had allegedly composed a list of journalists who "are discrediting the party." According to the same newspaper, UDF was said to have used members of its Young Democrats league to assault these journalists. This list is also said to include the names of reporters working with the Daily Times, the Nation and the BBC.



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