New York, July 19, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by intimidation of the private Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) on Sunday and Monday by masked assailants as protests were planned for Wednesday in the capital.
Civil society groups under an umbrella organization called the Malawi Human Rights Consultative Committee plan to march nationwide in protest of several issues--including rising fuel prices, a shortage of foreign exchange reserves, bad governance, and poor international relations, local journalists told CPJ. Gangs of machete-wielding pro-government youths drove in pick-up trucks with the ruling party insignia around the commercial city of Blantyre on Tuesday in an attempt to intimidate potential protesters, according to wire reports. Presidential Spokesman Albert Mungomo, however, told CPJ that the party youths are "the most disciplined youth in this country" and refuted claims that they were driving around with machetes.
About seven armed, masked men stopped a ZBS Land Rover on Sunday morning half a mile outside the station's office in a suburb of the capital, Lilongwe, editor Gabriel Kamlomo told CPJ. The men ordered the driver and reporter, who had just returned from covering a live soccer match, out of the car and then smashed the vehicle's back window and body.
At midnight on Monday, after the station's staff had left the office, a group of masked men entered the compound and set ablaze one of the broadcaster's vehicles, an eyewitness told the staff. In both instances the assailants drove vehicles with no license plates, according to a statement by the station. Zodiak has filed two reports to the police in last 48 hours, the station reported. Police Spokesman Willie Mwaluka said they are investigating both attacks.
"We're concerned by these blatant attempts to intimidate Zodiak Broadcasting Station," CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said. "The authorities have a duty to ensure that all journalists can cover social and political events freely and without harassment. They must fully investigate these attacks and bring those responsible to justice."
Local journalists told CPJ that they suspect ruling Democratic Progressive Party supporters orchestrated the attacks in light of coverage Zodiak has given to civil society members planning a nationwide protest tomorrow. Mungomo told CPJ that the government has not harassed any members of the media since he came to power in May 2004 and has no reason to target ZBS. The broadcaster had also announced the president's planned address to the nation, which is supposed to take place at his residence on Wednesday, Kamlomo said.