Civil society organisations (CSOs) have asked government to uphold the principles of good governance and stop harassing the media in the country.
The call is contained in a joint statement released on Monday, the eve of this year’s World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3.
Five CSOs, namely Youth and Society, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance and Southern Africa Litigation Centre have appended their signatures and raised concerns over rising incidents of what they call police surveillance, interception of private conversations and crackdown on freedoms of expression and the press in the country.
The statement reads in part: “We are deeply concerned with the rising cases of police surveillance and interception of private conversations of citizens resulting in arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and convictions. These acts have a chilling effect on citizens, journalists and activists who use social media platforms, such as WhatsApp.”
They also reminded the police that the action is a violation of Section 21 on the right to privacy, Section 34 on freedom of opinion, Section 35 on freedom of expression and Section 36 on press freedom in the Constitution.
The CSOs have further urged the Tonse Alliance administration to drop all criminal charges related to freedom of expression online and offline and restore the government’s human rights obligations in line with the Constitution and international law.
In a related development, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) said the World Press Freedom Day serves as a reminder to governments on the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and also provided a time of reflection among media practitioners about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
“The press has an important role in the promotion and protection of human rights, especially the right of access to information enshrined in the Constitution,” reads the statement in part.
MHRC also asked journalists to maintain media ethics to protect media viability and public trust.
Reads the statement: “In exercising their right, they must remember their duty to their profession but also to the country as critical agents in promoting access to information and human rights education in the country. Citizens should also use social media responsibly and objectively.” The Misa Malawi also called on government and other non-state-actors to stop keeping journalists and their sources under online or offline surveillance.