Lusaka, February 2, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that the prominent Malawian investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe has gone into hiding, following threats of arrest over his coverage of the country’s military.
“Investigative journalists like Gregory Gondwe play a vital role in ensuring good governance in a democratic society. Any attempts to arrest Gondwe or to intimidate him into silence would send a deeply worrying message about Malawi’s commitment to press freedom,” said CPJ Africa Head Angela Quintal in New York. “No single public institution is above reproach, and authorities should ensure that Malawi’s journalists can cover the military and the security sector without fear of retaliation.”
On Thursday, Gondwe, managing director of the privately owned news website Platform for Investigative Journalism, said on Facebook that he had gone into hiding after government sources informed him that the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) intended to arrest him in connection with his January 29 report alleging that the military had paid millions of dollars to a firm associated with Zuneth Sattar, a Malawian-born British businessman.
Sattar is being investigated by the UK’s National Crime Agency for alleged corruption relating to three public contracts with the Malawi government. Sattar has rejected the allegations.
Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima was arrested by the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau in November and charged over allegations that he received money from Sattar as a reward for assisting his companies in winning Malawian government contracts.
Gondwe said he was afraid for his life and that “death can be disguised as an accident.”
In a statement, the Malawi chapter of the regional press freedom body Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said that it had received assurances from Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda and MDF Commander General Paul Valentino Phiri that the journalist would not be arrested.
Phiri told CPJ via messaging app that the military did not have powers of arrest and did not plan to detain the journalist. Nyirenda did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app.
In 2022, Gondwe was detained for several hours by the police who demanded that he reveal his sources for an article alleging that Nyirenda made payments to Sattar, despite restriction orders imposed on the businessman by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.