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Journalist arrested, briefly detained, his photographs confiscated

(MISA/IFEX) - A journalist working for Blantyre Newspapers Limited was arrested on 12 March 2008 and detained by the Police in Mzuzu for taking pictures of a group of people that had gathered outside offices of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), after a police officer was arrested.

Wanangwa Tembo said that he got a tip-off that a police officer had been arrested by the ACB while trying to solicit K2000 (approx. US$15) from an individual he arrested who had been pick-pocketing.

He said that when he went to the ACB offices he found a lot of people gathered outside trying to find out what was happening as the policeman was arrested while in uniform.

He said two police officers carrying guns approached him after he took two pictures of the crowd and demanded to see his identity card. They instructed him not to take further pictures.

"A few minutes later their senior came with two other officers and grabbed my ID and camera. They handcuffed me and threw me into their car. The senior officer beat me three times on the chest with his baton stick," he complained.

Tembo was taken to the police station where he made a caution statement and was forced to delete the pictures in his camera. He was released unconditionally two hours later.

The police also harassed two journalists; Francis Tayanja-Phiri and Edwin Nyirongo who had gone to the station to find out what was happening to their colleague.

Station officer for Mzuzu, Francis Namoyo confirmed the incident, saying the journalist was arrested after he was seen taking pictures of police officers outside the ACB offices.

Namoyo said the police were investigating the issue and Tembo would be taken to the court on charges to be discerned from the findings. However, he could not explain what was remaining to probe after they found the reporter taking pictures at the event.

He could also not justify if it was an offence to take pictures of police officers at a public place and whether it was relevant for the law-enforcers to handcuff the journalist if they were not arresting him.

In reaction, MISA Malawi said the act by the police had no room in democracy as it was tantamount to a false arrest and a gross infringement of media freedom.

MISA Malawi National Director, Innocent Chitosi, said the media fraternity expected a higher degree of professionalism from the law enforcers after undergoing several years of reform.

"The police should put in place measures to get rid of traits of dictatorship where human rights are not respected. There should be disciplinary measures against such officers who abuse their status in society to inflict injury on innocent individuals," he said.

BACKGROUND:
Tembo becomes the third journalist to be arrested by police this year alone. In January, police also arrested a reporter, Mike Chipalasa, and editor for one of Blantyre Newspapers' publications, James Mphande, for publishing a false story likely to cause fear and public alarm.

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