An online journalist arrested last year in Malawi for allegedly publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm among people has been acquitted by the courts, Newstime Africa can report. A Principal Magistrate Court in Lilongwe freed the Malawi Voice online journalist, Justice Mponda Friday February 8 2013 due to lack of evidence.
Out of the four witnesses the prosecuting team was ready to parade against the Blantyre based journalist, arrested on October 15 last year, only one, an arresting police officer, availed himself last month.
That time, Malawi’s top police prosecutor assured the court that the other witnesses will be available Friday, but Malawi’s president’s senior adviser the Reverend Malani Mtonga, Malawi Police Service’s IT expert superintendent Jere and the Malawi police’s former director of criminal investigations department, Bob Mtekama, were nowhere to be seen.
The prosecutor, Happy Mkandawire told the court that this was so due to the fact that they were waiting for forensic analysis from the IT expert. This is the fifth time for the state to fail to bring witnesses and although Mkandawire asked for another adjournment it did not go his way.
Lawyer representing the journalist, Chancy Gondwe objected, questioning the State’s willingness to conclude the case, wondering why the State went ahead to arrest his client without carrying out investigations, further pointing out that their action ended up with them arresting a wrong person because the story in question was filed by a blogger currently based in the United Kingdom.
Gondwe then asked the court to dismiss the case since the State has failed to provide evidence and witnesses and although Mkandawire did not object the dismissal, he asked the court not to make it an outright acquittal.
Principal Magistrate, Benjamin Chulu blamed the State for failing to investigate the matter before making the arrest, lamenting that many cases stall due to unpreparedness by the State to have witnesses ready.
Dismissing the case, the principal magistrate said: “The State should have learned from the past mistakes and investigate the matter thoroughly before arrest. I uphold the defence’s application and dismiss the case. All bail conditions are therefore set aside.”
Upon his arrest at his Chiwembe residence in Blantyre, the police charged Mponda with three counts- insulting state president, publishing false information and criminal libel, and transferred him to the capital Lilongwe which is over 300 kilometres from his base.
The State’s only witness to provide his evidence had told the court that he arrested Mponda following orders from above but did not know the exact charges levelled against Mponda, as his role was only to arrest him.
During the arrest carried out by armed police who stormed the journalist residence in the wee hours, gadgets like computers and cameras believed to have been devices used to publish the stories in question were confiscated.
Following the arrest, Newstime Africa condemned the action and called upon the Malawi government for an immediate release of the arrested journalist. Other media houses and human rights organisations, local and international followed suit.
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