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ZBS online editor freed

(MISA/IFEX) - The Lilongwe Magistrate court has freed Gabriel Kamlomo, online editor for Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), a privately owned radio station. Kamlomo was accused of publishing "false information likely to cause public alarm".

In a ruling issued on 2 December 2010, Senior Resident Magistrate Vikochie Ndovi said the court found Kamlomo with no case to answer.

The police had initially charged Kamlomo of giving false information to a public officer, but they later changed the charge and accused him of publishing false information likely to cause public unrest. The ZBS online editor was arrested on 7 July 2009 following a news item broadcast by the radio on 3 July 2009.

The news story alleged that two women complained they were hired to bathe a dead body which had some of its body parts missing in the suburb of Area 23 in the capital Lilongwe.

On 28 October, the state, led by Lilongwe Police Head of Prosecutions Levison Mangani, brought three witnesses against Kamlomo. The three witnesses, two police officers and a chairperson of Lilongwe Community Policing, testified that they had received queries and complaints from members of the public following Kamlomo's broadcast, which the witnesses described as "alarming".

The editor's lawyer, Ian Malera, defended his client by arguing that the reporter's story was balanced since all sides were heard. That day, the court also replayed the news story.

The case has been ongoing since July 2009.

After the ruling, Malera told MISA Malawi that "this was a victory for media freedom in Malawi. The court agreed with our arguments that my client's story was balanced since all sides were heard. The court further agreed that if the public believes and has trust in the police, who said they had investigated the matter and that the story was untrue, then there was no cause for alarm in the story."

Malera, who has represented various cases involving the media in the country, further said the court also agreed that the state's grounds in the case were against Section 36 of the constitution, which states that "the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information".

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