Online journalist in Malawi charged for seditious articles

Police in Malawi have arrested an online journalist accusing him of publishing seditious, false and treasonable articles.

Justice Mponda, 27, editor of Malawi Voice has been charged with criminal libel, insulting the president and false publications.

Nicholous Gondwa Southern Region police spokesman Superintendent told Nyasa Times the journalist has been charged with three counts and that his file has been open in Lilongwe where he will be prosecuted.

“He has been arrested on three charges, that of insulting the president, publishing false stories and criminal libel,” police spokesman said.

Justice was arrested at his Chiwembe residence in Blantyre, Malawi on Monday morning, the Nyasa Times reports.

He accused of authoring publications that alleged that President Joyce Banda had resigned and another that claimed the Government of Malawi had issued a 48-hour ultimatum for the Tanzanian High Commissioner, Patrick Tsere, to leave the country.

The reporter is also claimed to have published articles suggesting that the Government of China had withdrawn itself from construction of the 40,000-seater stadium, claiming the Malawian government kept changing venue, all which, according to the Nyasa Times, are false.

Equipment was confiscated from the property, including computers and cameras that the police believe the journalist used to publish the articles.

Mponda becomes the first journalist to face criminal charges under the Joyce Banda government and, according to some observers, the charges and outcome will set a precedent for the future of online freedom in Malawi.

The arrest and charge comes after organisations around the world spoke out for freedom online. According to the Global Online Freedom Act 2012, governments are required to assess the “freedom of expression with respect to electronic information in each foreign country”.

It also requires disclosure from companies about their human rights practices, to be evaluated by an independent third party and limit the export of technologies that “serve the primary purpose of” facilitating government surveillance or censorship to governments in countries designated as “Internet-restricting.”

Chapter 18:03 of the Laws of Malawi, Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblemes and Names Act, of the Laws of Malawi state that; Any person who does any act or utters any words or publishes or utters any writing calculated to or liable to insult, ridicule or to show disrespect to or with reference to the President, the National Flag, the Armorial Ensigns, the Public Seal, or any protected emblem or protected likeness, shall be liable to a fine of £1,000 and to imprisonment for two years.

Judgement on case has not been communicated and the country’s chapter of Media Institute for Southern Africa-MISA Malawi is following the case.

Malawi’s media operate under strict surveillance and Mponda was like a voice of the many disgruntled citizens.

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