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Radio station shut down, staff arrested following election coverage

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders expressed its concern after the 19 May 2009 closure of privately owned opposition radio station Joy Radio and the arrest of four staff members, two of them journalists, accused of breaking election rules.

The director of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), James Chimera, ruled that satirical programme, Chilungamo Chili Kuti? (Is there any justice?), broadcast at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on 19 May, after the closure of the official election campaign, had violated the law banning endorsement or ridicule of a candidate.

Some 15 police officers raided the studios at around 4:00 a.m. (local time) and arrested two journalists, Aubrey Nazombe and Mary Chande Mhone, a technician, Abdulazagv Telera, and a driver, Yusuf Yasin, accusing them of "violating electoral law". They also seized the tape of the programme.

Although the radio station apologised and admitted making a mistake, the authorities initially banned all live programmes and ordered it to only play music. During the evening they decided to shut down the station completely. "Police are watching the studios of Joy Radio and preventing anyone from entering," said Lloyd Zawansa, the station's editor. The four staff members are still being held by police and are undergoing interrogation.

"The authorities who already disliked Joy Radio for its political coverage are now openly hounding it, the worldwide press freedom organisation said."This incident shows the lack of respect for diversity of opinion and raises serious doubts about objective and balanced news coverage."

"Even if the radio did not obey the rules, the arrest of four of its staff and its closure are disproportionate. We urge the authorities to immediately release these four and to allow Joy Radio to resume its normal programmes."

Since the election of President Bingu wa Mutharika, Joy Radio, owned by former president, Baliki Lulizi, has been viewed by the authorities in Malawi as a weapon of the opposition. It has already suffered harassment and temporary closures.
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