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Journalist threatened after allegedly publicising conversation involving presidential candidate

(MISA/IFEX) - 28 September 2011 - The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has learned with dismay that journalist Joseph Mwale is receiving death threats after he allegedly publicised a recording of a private conversation between Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Peter Mutharika and former Deputy Minister of Sports and Culture Charles Mchacha.

Mwale was recently fired by one of the country's broadcaster and journalism training institutions, the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ), for allegedly publicising the recording.

In an interview with MISA-Malawi, Mwale indicated that he has been receiving death threats via text messages to a mobile phone. According to Mwale, one of the text messages said, "How dare you shame our next president? You thought you were a hero? We will make you a villain because you will soon die. Mind you, we monitor you and we control everything. We threatened them and they sacked you. Now they are quiet. This is operation 2011. You will soon go to HHI."

HHI stands for the Henry Henderson Institute, where there is a cemetery in the commercial city of Blantyre.

The journalist was fired for allegedly circulating Mutharika's conversation with Mchacha on the internet. Mutharika is currently the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) appointee to run in the 2014 presidential elections.

MISA-Malawi considers these threats to be barbaric, retrogressive and unwarranted in an open and transparent democracy.

We also deem actions such as these as deliberate attempts to instill fear to curtail meaningful dialogue and debate on pertinent issues that affect Malawi.

We therefore strongly condemn these actions and call upon the authorities to thoroughly investigate the matter.

We applaud Mwale for taking up the matter with the police, who have promised to investigate the threats. MISA-Malawi is, however, calling on the authorities and police to publicly denounce these barbaric acts and protect journalists and other members of the public who have received threats.

Mutharika and Mchachat have chosen not to comment on the recording, which is circulating via social media sites, including You Tube. In the clip, Mutharika analyses the loyalty of some top DPP leaders, bringing into play questions about trust in the run-up to the 2014 presidential elections. Mutharika also discusses potential presidential candidates from other parties who he believes have started campaigning for the 2014 elections.

MISA-Malawi encourages journalists and members of the public to report to police whenever they feel their lives are in danger. We further advise journalists to be alert whenever they are carrying out their duties.

Finally, we appeal to the DPP leaders to strongly condemn these threats which are likely tarnishing the image of the party and top party officials, and to take meaningful steps to ensure a democratic attitude among those loyal to the party.

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