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Malawi Military’s Threats Send Journalist into Hiding

Authorities Should Ensure Media’s Safety, Free Expression Rights

Malawi's newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera takes the oath of office in Lilongwe, Malawi, Sunday June 28, 2020. © AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi

A top investigative journalist in Malawi, Gregory Gondwe, has gone into hiding after the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) threatened to arrest him. Gondwe’s plight stems from a report he wrote exposing the military’s multi-million-dollar payments to companies owned by a businessman under investigation for corruption.

In January 2022, the government of Malawi announced the cancellation of all contracts with firms associated with the named businessman, and also barred his companies from future involvement in public procurement in Malawi.

However, Gondwe’s report, published in January 2024 on the Platform for Investigative Journalism, details how government authorities have continued to pay the businessman. Last November, for instance, the businessman was paid US$4.98 million as part of a US$19.93 million deal for the procurement of military hardware.

This week, Gondwe wrote on Facebook that he had gone into hiding after “top government officials” told him that the Malawi Defence Force intended to arrest him for “endangering state security.”

“The military believes it has a leak,” Gondwe wrote, “and they think addressing it through me will solve their problems.” In April 2022, the police arrested and detained Gondwe and tried to compel him to disclose his sources for a similar story about alleged government corruption.

A statement issued by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi described the threats towards Gondwe as having a chilling effect on journalists and the media: “We believe that if MDF or any other concerned parties have an issue with the media, they should use proper channels to raise such issues, but military interrogations and threats are not among those channels.”

Fifteen Malawi civil society organizations denounced the alleged plans to arrest Gondwe, describing them as an attempt to intimidate whistleblowers who wish to report corrupt practices to the media.

Malawi is party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which both protect the right to freedom of expression. The United Nations Human Rights Council, in a 2017 resolution, recognized the “importance of creating a safe and enabling environment” and protecting journalists, whistle-blowers, witnesses and anti-corruption activists from “threats arising from their activities in preventing and fighting against corruption.”

Malawi authorities should stop threatening Gondwe and allow him to do his job. Journalists play a pivotal role in rooting out corruption and ensuring authorities remain accountable. They should not be living in fear simply for doing their job.

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