Reporters Without Borders today deplored the Malawian authorities’ ban on a debate by the Lilongwe Press Club about whether President Bakali Muluzi should run for another term of office. President Muluzi has already outlawed demonstrations for or against lifting restrictions on presidential reelection.
"This refusal to allow an open public debate and permit journalists to talk about a matter of public interest is a serious violation of human rights," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, in a letter addressed to President Bakili Muluzi. He noted that two journalists had been threatened and many copies of a privately-owned newspaper seized for having raised the subject of the Muluzi’s re-election.
The Malawian parliament is due to consider on 27 June an proposed amendment to Article 83 of the Constitution which would allow him to run for a third time in 2004. It needs a two-thirds majority to pass. A number of civil and religious organisations have called for a referendum on amending the Constitution. On 28 May President Muluzi banned all public demonstrations about the issue.
The ban on the Press Club debate came on 20 June, after police broke up a debate being organised there between journalists, politicians and members of civil society and forbade the Club to hold another.
One of the president’s advisers, Dumbo Lemani, led a demonstration of supporters of the ruling party, United Democratic Front, outside the offices of Blantyre Newspapers, which published two pro-opposition papers, the Daily Times and the weekly Malawi News.
The crowd threatened two journalists, Mabvuto Banda and Akimu Kaingana, who had written articles opposing the president’s re-election. All the journalists remained quietly in the building until the crowd dispersed without incident. However, one of the company’s employees was attacked when he tried to note down the registration numbers of vehicles involved in the protest.
Anonymous attackers set upon newspaper sellers in the streets of the capital (Lilongwe) in August last year and seized copies of the privately-owned newspaper The People’s Eye. The aggressors then went to the paper’s offices and made off with 300 copies of the latest issue. The paper’s managing editor, Chinyeke Tembo, closed the paper "to allow things to settle down." He had published an article criticising President Muluzi’s silence on whether he would seek a third term of office.