Saturday, September 5, 2009

Police harass journalists photographing demolition

(MISA/IFEX) - Malawi - Armed police officers harassed two senior journalists, Wisdom Chimgwede and Clifton Kawanga, from the Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) for taking pictures of city council workers torching vendors' stalls. According to Chimgwede, who is chief reporter for "The Daily Times", the armed officers banged on the vehicle the journalists were using and demanded the journalists hand them the camera.

The council workers were on duty from around 9:00 p.m. (local time) burning and dismantling unlicensed vending stalls around Blantyre Flea Market. The police were under orders to remove vendors from the streets and relocate them to designated areas of trade such as licensed flea market areas. The vendors, however, claim that the designated places of trade are too small to accommodate all the traders in the city.

"When we heard the news, we rushed to the scene to do our job," said Kawanga, "Daily Times" features editor.

"The police apparently wanted us to inform them that we were taking pictures. I don't know if that would have been a news picture," reasoned Chimgwede who is also a member of MISA-Malawi's National Governing Council (NGC). The journalists were later obliged to open the doors of the vehicle and a police officer, identified only as Mollen, grabbed the camera to delete the photos. The officers managed to remove the camera's memory card, which was only handed back a day later through the Southern Region police headquarters.

The police have, on several occasions, stopped journalists from taking photos, especially during presidential functions, where they are only allowed to do so from a distance.

MISA-Malawi National Director Aubrey Chikungwa condemned the police action and described the officers' behavior as "barbaric". "The journalists were only doing their job. The city assembly workers were carrying out an operation and the journalists had the right to take pictures at the scene. The action taken by the police was uncalled for and it's high time the men and women in uniform learned to respect people's right to information," said Chikungwa.

Media Institute of Southern Africa
21 Johann Albrecht Street
Private Bag 13386
Phone: +264 61 232975
Fax: +264 61 248016

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