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Journalist arrested for photographing presidential property without permission

(MISA/IFEX) - 13 September 2011 - On 12 September 2011, police arrested journalist Ernest Mhwayo for allegedly taking pictures of President Bingu wa Mutharika's Ndata Farm without permission.

Ndata Farm is President Mutharika's retirement residence in his home district of Thyolo, Southern Malawi. The farm recently came into the spotlight when civil society leaders requested that the president explain his wealth.

Mahwayo is an assistant editor for the "Mkwaso" newspaper, which is published by Montfort Media, a company owned by the Catholic Church in the Balaka district of Eastern Malawi.

Southern Region Police Spokesperson Davie Chingwalu confirmed to MISA-Malawi that Mahwayo had been arrested at a mausoleum on the Ndata property. "Ernest has indeed been arrested. He was found taking pictures at Ndata, which is private property. He has been charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace," Chingwalu said. He added that the journalist took the pictures without authorization.

Mutharika's late wife, Ethel, was laid to rest at Ndata Farm, which was recently purchased by the president. Mahwayo was reportedly pursuing a story on the history of Ndata Farm.

The president has been widely criticized by various commentators over the manner in which he bought Ndata Farm, where he has built a state of the art mausoleum and an expensive three story building. Some commentators, including representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), have demanded that the president explain his wealth.

Meanwhile, MISA-Malawi Chairperson Anthony Kasunda has expressed concern over the manner in which Mahwayo has been treated. "MISA-Malawi believes that arresting the journalist is rather severe and highhanded. Mahwayo should have been advised as to what he should have done before visiting Ndata, rather than being arrested. We believe that detaining journalists should be a last resort and not the first and only step in dealing with them," he said.

Kasunda has further appealed to the police to speedily investigate and conclude the matter to avoid subjecting Mahwayo to prolonged psychological abuse by keeping him in custody for a longer period of time. "We further appeal to the police to ensure that Mahwayo is not victimized in any way while in custody and that the journalist's rights are respected."

MISA-Malawi is currently making arrangements with the police authorities to have Mahwayo released on bail.
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