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Radio station resumes operations

(MISA/IFEX) - On 9 June 2009, the Blantyre Magistrate court ordered police to leave the premises of Joy FM Radio, a privately owned radio station, consequently allowing the station to go back on air. The ruling comes three weeks after police cordoned off the station, claiming that the radio station had aired campaign materials outside the official 60 days of campaign in the run-up to the 19 May general elections.

The station was technically closed on 19 May by the police, who also arrested two radio presenters, Aubrey Nazombe and Mary Chande-Mhone, and a technician, Abdul Razzak Telera, in the early hours of election day on grounds that they aired a programme called "Chilungamo Chilikuti".

In his ruling, the principal resident magistrate, Mzondi Mvula, said the police justified their presence by claiming that they wanted to prevent people from tampering with a computer believed to have information on the alleged programme. The magistrate, however, described the action taken by the police as "a gross violation of the rights of the employees".

Mvula has since ordered the police to leave the premises to pave the way for employees to go back to work. Meanwhile, the court has given the state a mandate to confiscate the computer believed to have stored information on the programme and surrender it to the court for safety.

Late in the day on 9 June, Lloyd Zawanda, who is Joy FM's head of news, claimed that the police were dilly-dallying on the matter.

"We shall be back on air once the police have left the premises," he said.

Also adjourned on the same day was a case in which the two radio presenters are accused of contravening section 115 of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act.

The section makes it an offence for any person to campaign or cause another to campaign within 48 hours before the first day of polling. If convicted, the two face a fine of K5000 (approx. US$35) and/or imprisonment for two years. The state has been ordered by the court to tender evidence on the two cases by 24 June.

Joy Radio is owned by former president Bakili Muluzi, who is also the national chairman of the United Democratic Front (UDF) party. He entered into an electoral alliance with the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) two weeks before the polling day. The coalition, however, lost to incumbent president Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

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