Home 9 Freedom of expression 9 Man convicted, fined for ‘insulting’ Malawi President on WhatsApp

Man convicted, fined for ‘insulting’ Malawi President on WhatsApp

Free speech Malawi
23 May, 2024
Malawi Police Service is now frequently using the cybersecurity law to clamp down on journalists and critical ordinary citizens.

A Magistrates Court in Dowa district has fined Sainani Joshua MK200,000 ($115) or spend 6 months in prison for ‘insulting’ President Dr Lazarus McCathy Chakwera

Joshua is said to have committed the offence in a WhatsApp group called Mponela Hotspot.

He was convicted on May 16, 2024 on cyber spamming charges contrary to section 91 of Malawi’s Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act of 2016. He has paid the fine and is now out of Ntchisi Prison where he was on remand for about two weeks.

Section 91 of the Act reads: “Any person who transmits any unsolicited electronic information to another person for the purposes of illegal trade or commerce, or other illegal activity, commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2, 000,000 and to imprisonment for five years”.

ironically, the Act does not clearly indicate that insulting the president or any other individual is an offence. In 2022, the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act was amended to remove ‘President’ as a protected name. It is therefore not clear which law other than the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act was used to criminalise insulting the president.

Malawi Police Service (MPS) is now frequently using the cybersecurity law to clamp down on journalists and critical ordinary citizens.

Cyber spamming is among the charges that the police used when they detained journalist Macmillan Mhone in April 2024.

In February 2024, over 14 journalists at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) were subjected to police searching of mobile phones and computers on allegations of cyber spamming.

In May 2022, Chidawawa Mainje, a nurse based in Ntcheu, was also arrested for allegedly insulting President Lazarus Chakwera and First Lady Madame Monica Chakwera in a WhatsApp group.

Journalist Gregory Gondwe was also detained in April 2022 on cyber spamming charges.

In April 2022, another man identified as Dauka Manondo was also arrested for allegedly ‘insulting’ a cabinet minister on WhatsApp.

While MISA Malawi does not condone insulting others or any cybercrime –related behaviours, the Chapter found Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act of 2016 as a law that is being used to criminalise freedom of expression and media freedom in Malawi.

During 2024 World Press Freedom Day Presidential Breakfast at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, MISA Malawi asked President Chakwera for a review of Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act of 2016 to ensure that it is in line with democratic freedoms such as free speech.

MISA Malawi promotes and advocates for media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.

Media contacts

MISA Malawi Chairperson Golden Matonga

Cell: +265 99 616 9705 or email goldenmatonga@gmail.com  

MISA Malawi National Director Aubrey Chikungwa

Cell: +265 999 327 311 or email info@misamalawi.org  

 

 

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

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