Police yesterday arrested Nation Publications Limited (NPL) journalist Golden Matonga and Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) crew Steven Zimba and Francis Chamasowa at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe.
The three were nabbed for taking, and trying to take, photographs at KIAs Very Important Persons’ (VIP) section as a European Union (EU) Election Observer Mission (EOM) delegation arrived in the country for what has turned out to be a suspended plan to present its final report on the disputed May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Police have charged the journalists—who were put in a cell within the airport for about one and a half hours—with behaving in disorderly matter contrary to Section 26 of the Aviation Act. They have since been granted bail and will appear in court on January 18.
The assignment seemed normal for the two senior reporters who went to the airport early to await the delegation’s arrival at 4pm. They have covered more sensitive events locally and internationally and, so, there was no reason for them to look over their shoulders at the airport.
Matonga had taken a few still photographs of the visitors outside the VIP Lounge when a police officer accosted him, saying he needed to move his vehicle where the reporter had parked.
But as Matonga headed towards the vehicle, a senior officer instructed him to follow him to the office while saying they had received orders “from above” not to allow anyone to take pictures of the visitors.
Matonga said: “In no time, there were some 30 police officers in uniform and in plain clothes. Some were even dragging editor-at-large Zimba, video cameraman Namasowa and I to a charge office.
“When we tried to resist and ask what our charge was, the most senior police officer said we were rude and he could order that we be beaten up. Later, after we were charged, we were released on bail after discussions between senior police officers and their counterparts in the media fraternity.”
On his part, Zimba described the police conduct was unfortunate because he failed to do his job.
He said: “I am saddened that, through this incident, our [ZBS] listeners and viewers have been denied the chance to know what the EU delegation has come to do in Malawi. This is most unfortunate because people in Malawi are eager to know issues about the disputed elections.”
The journalists said they would seek counsel from their companies’ lawyers on how to face the pending court case.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera last evening said he was yet to be updated by KIA Police officer-in-charge Tiyese Chiumbuzo on the arrests.
He said: “Actually, you [NPL] were the first media house to alert me about the incident and thereafter Zodiak and Misa [Media Institute for Southern Africa-Malawi] engaged me. My office only pleaded with the bosses to release the reporters on bail, which they did.”
Meanwhile, Misa Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga expressed regret that the journalists were arrested while trying to do their job.
She said: “Misa Malawi is worried that authorities continue to treat journalism as a crime and that there is continued animosity by some police officers towards journalists.
“We would like to reiterate our appeal to the police that they should make more efforts towards working as a service and forming a better working relationship with journalists. Misa Malawi will engage the police leadership to discuss these concerns and agree on concrete steps of improving the working relationship between the two sides.” Ndanga stressed that Misa Malawi remains committed to ensuring that journalists abide by the country’s laws as well as enjoy their duly enshrined constitutional freedom to carry out their duties.