MBC, Police Clamp on 14 Journalists

…former MBC guru Greyson Chapita arrested, released

…over 36 Police officers invade MBC’s premises

…Chakwera, Kasakula, MCP threat to free speech

The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) run broadcaster MBC on Tuesday sealed its media intolerance credentials when it unleashed over 36 Police officers to confiscate mobile phones and tablets of 14 journalists suspected to be members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

As we were about to interview former Controller of News at MBC Greyson Chapita, he was arrested by Police who tricked him into going to his child’s home and claiming his child was sick. Chapita said he was bitter that his privacy was intruded upon and that this was “intimidation and harassment.”

Search warrant to search MBC staff members

Just two months into the new year, under President Lazarus Chakwera, critics of the government face Police arrests and harassment, and the latest intrusion of privacy of 14 journalists by the Police and MBC management headed by MCP agent George Kasakula cements their anti-media approach that has led to exiling of Gregory Gondwe, an investigative journalist.

MBC management headed by MCP agent George Kasakula cements their anti-media approach

Activists have either stopped critiquing the MCP, a party with a history of killings and excessive abuse of human rights between 1964 and 1994 and now President Chakwera seems to be following the same path as he has arrested Anti-Corruption Bureau Director Martha Chizuma, activists Bon Kalindo, Joshua Chisa Mbele and journalists such as Gregory Gondwe.

On Tuesday, 13th February 2024, MCP’s even-handedness was displayed nationwide at all MBC stations.

Chapita, who left MBC in December 2020, said the company removed all former administrators of MBC pages and created a new one. He described the trickery used by Police to get hold of him as “unbelievable.”

Chapita was taken for questioning and later released unconditionally

According to Chapita, a Chief Administrator at MBC Zione Mandala called him on Tuesday asking him to MBC on Wednesday morning for a meeting with “external investigators”, but he asked for a written invitation, which did not turn up.

“Today (Wednesday), I received a call that my child was seriously sick. I rushed to the house in Chiwembe only to be told that the Police were the ones who had forced them to call me and claim my child was sick. It is very disgusting that MBC management can sink so low and abuse the rights of my child just to get to me,” said Chapita in an interview.

He told The Investigator Magazine in Blantyre that whilst still at the house, a Landcruiser without registration plates turned up and went into the house asking for a Greyson Chapita. They asked him to accompany them to the Police and show them his phone and any electronic gadgets.

“I use a mose wa lero (non-smartphone), and they asked me where my laptop is; I told them my home. They said let’s go. I asked them for identification, but they did not have any. I told them I cannot go with people without identities knowing the history of the MCP,” narrated Chapita.

They told him to go to a Police station of his choice, where they would be identified. They travelled to the Regional Commissioner’s office at Chichiri, where, after a while, some senior Police officers identified them. Chapita made them sign a paper of identification.

He then took them to his house; he invited them in. They searched his laptop, including social media pages, but found nothing incriminating. He said they left him his laptop after taking screenshots of it.

“My five-year-old child was there; I had to ask the kid to go into the bedroom. My wife could not stomach it, so she left the house. The idea of MBC management is to harass, intimidate and use force on very innocent people. My hands are clean, and this abuse of Police powers as if we are in a police state is very shameful,” said Chapita, who refused to say his next course of action.

Police told Chapita he was to be interrogated, and the search process lasted over three hours.

“Police officers had to travel to Blantyre from Lilongwe over a Facebook page? Really? Many fake pages exist for the Times, Zodiak, and many famous people. You can tell this is MBC abusing public resources to settle personal vendettas, ” Chapita charged.

In what could be confused as an anti-terrorism operation or a drug lord burst, Malawi Police Officers organised the operation in such a fashion and a waste of public resources when they arrived at MBC premises in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu in an unregistered land cruiser to “confiscate gadgets.”

Police are struggling to offer protection as criminality has been on the rise, but an operation insiders claim was coordinated with MBC management and managed to pull 9 Police officers travelling from Lilongwe to Mzuzu, another 14 from Lilongwe to Blantyre and an additional 29 were deployed to Lilongwe MBC studios.

Over 30 armed police officers invaded the MBC offices

“They said they came from Area 30 and wanted specific people,” one of the MBC officers at the gate told the Investigator Magazine; everyone at the institution was gripped with fear as they did not know why many officers had turned up at their premises.

“I have worked over three decades at MBC; we have had party freaks, fanatics and weirdos running MBC; Kasakula has beaten them all, calling Police on his staff is what was happening in 1960 and 1970s. He has created his legacy of trying to use the Police to get rid of those he deems to be pro-opposition. This terror on journalists reminds us of Kamuzu days, where journalists were arrested for mispronouncing Kamuzu’s name,” narrated a veteran MBC journalist.

13 Journalists gadgets confiscated, threatened with arrests

Mobile phones and laptops for 13 journalists- the largest swoop even for the worst dictators in the world- were confiscated by the Malawi Police Service, an act that confirms the dictatorial tendencies of President Chakwera and his official’s use of Police to intimidate Malawians.

The thirteen include Hassan Phiri, Henry Haukeya and Mike Mkwala in Mzuzu, while in Lilongwe, four journalists, Sam Phiri, Charles Wahara, Yamikani Simutowe and Mwayi Mtumodzi, had their gadgets confiscated.

Blantyre, where 14 Police officers searched offensive gadgets, saw Austin Kakande, Chisomo Brek, Jeff Chinawa, Simeon Shumba, Stanely Kadzuwa, and Wesylslas Chirwa subjected to privacy intrusion.

The Police were not searching for a rogue bomb, terrorists, or drug peddler, but journalists they think run a parody Facebook page.

Police heavy operation for a Facebook page

“We are not done yet; we will be back,” one of the Police officers told the suspects, who now face arrest should it be proven they run an MBC Facebook parody account. The use of excessive Police force on media has stunned all right-thinking Malawians and media freedom bodies.

A search warrant served on the 13 MBC journalists shows it was obtained between the 6th and 7th of February 2024 from the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrates Court with an affidavit signed by Superintendent Mangani Kazembe accusing the 13 of “spamming.”

The search warrant reads, “Where is has been proved on oath to this Court that you are suspected of having access to  Facebook page with URL https://web.facebok.com/profile.php?id=100070881544968  which has been reported to run articles without the authority of MBC management.

The page has been deleted, that is deemed to write false stories

“Being devices in respect of which the offence of Spamming contrary to section 91 of the Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act,” reads part of the search warrant.

MBC management, headed by Kasakula, seems to have found its way to deal with perceived political rivals at the state-run broadcaster.

The page goes viral- a puke on Police, MBC.

Hours after the gadgets were confiscated, the alleged fake page continued to post, puking on the Police Service claim that the gadgets they had had nothing to do with the page and could turn into an embarrassing episode for MBC and Malawi Government to harass media personnel for their suspected political leanings.

The page started in 2021, and since the confiscation of gadgets, the page has gone viral and continues to update posts, including the one on MCP youth cleaning Kamuzu Mausoleum.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter President Golden Matonga said the Police action threatened media freedom as they are supposed to protect their sources, and confiscating their gadgets would put sources at risk.

The Investigator Magazine does not receive a response when contacting Police National Spokesperson Office. As such, we stopped contacting them.

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