Medical personnel are seen in Lilongwe, Malawi, on January 18, 2021. Police recently attacked journalist Henry Kijimwana Mhango while he was reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP/Amos Gumulira)

Malawian police beat journalist Henry Kijimwana Mhango for reporting on COVID-19

Abuja, January 28, 2021 — Malawian authorities should investigate the police attack on journalist Henry Kijimwana Mhango, and ensure that those responsible are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On January 22, a group of at least seven police officers in the Old Town area of Lilongwe, the capital, attacked Mhango, a freelance reporter who contributes to the U.K. daily The Telegraph, with pipes and sticks after he asked permission to photograph them enforcing COVID-19 regulations, according to a report by the Malawi Voice news website and Mhango, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

“Authorities in Malawi should investigate and hold accountable the police officers responsible for beating journalist Henry Kijimwana Mhango,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, in Nairobi. “Journalists are far too often attacked for reporting on the enforcement of COVID-19-related restrictions. The pandemic is difficult enough for journalists without having to worry that they will be assaulted while on the job.”

Mhango told CPJ that he was returning from the Kamuzu Central Hospital when he noticed police officers beating people for not wearing face masks, as required under a government directive. He said he approached an officer to ask permission to take pictures for a story he was preparing about COVID-19, and the officer called the journalist “stupid” and criticized him for asking the question.

Mhango said he apologized and began to leave, when the officer attacked him with a pipe. At least six other officers quickly joined in, hitting Mhango in his ribs, buttocks, and shoulders with pipes and sticks for several minutes, he told CPJ.

He said the beating only stopped after another officer intervened and allowed him to run away, and onlookers helped him board a bus to his house.

The journalist went to a local hospital later that day for treatment for his injuries, but a nurse said he should file a police report before being treated, he said. He told CPJ that when he went to a police station, the officers there said it was too late in the day.

Mhango told CPJ today that he continues to feel pain in his ribs, and had not been able to file a police report or receive medical treatment.

Police spokesperson James Kadadzera told CPJ by phone that he had apologized to the journalist and to Malawi’s chapter of the Media Institute of South Africa, a local press freedom group that had condemned the attack. He said police were working with Mhango to identify and hold accountable the police officers responsible; Mhango told CPJ today that the police had called him once, on January 22, but had not contacted him again.

CPJ called and texted Malawian Information Minister Gospel Kazako for comment, but did not receive any responses.