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Official intimidates reporter seeking information on police action

(MISA/IFEX) - On 7 June 2008, Machinga District Commissioner (DC) Lawrence Makonokaya mistreated Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) correspondent Wyford Banda. The incident occurred when the latter sought the DC's comments on the arrest of people involved in a fight with the police over participation in the Malawi Housing and Population Census. It took place at around 6:00 p.m. (local time) at the Ntaja police station, situated in the southern district of Machinga.

The group was arrested for beating enumerators of the ongoing Malawi Population and Housing Census, claiming that the DC's office had not followed due process in engaging the enumerators.

According to Banda, Makonokaya aggressively shoved him around in the presence of Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Ellock Maotcha Banda, who is also a Member of Parliament for the area, and other police officers. Banda said the DC also intimidated him the following day, asking why Banda had reported the matter to ZBS management instead of sorting out the issue between the two of them.

Makonokaya claims he only held Banda by the shoulder and asked him to contact him later as he did not have information readily available. He confirmed asking Banda why he reported the matter to his employers, adding that he has since banned the correspondent from seeking information from his office.

MISA-Malawi condemns Makonokaya's conduct. MISA-Malawi's national director, Innocent Chitosi, said Makonokaya's behaviour does not befit a public officer. He also said Makonokaya is just a custodian of information and therefore has no right to determine who is entitled to receive it.

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