29 June 2004
Radio station reopened
(MISA/IFEX) - On 31 May 2004, the High Court in Blantyre ordered the police to reopen the Malawi Institute of Journalism's (MIJ) 90.3 FM radio station, which was shut down on 23 May.
The station was closed following an interview it broadcast with the opposition Mgwirizano Coalition's spokesperson, Kholiwe Mkandawire, in which she threatened to sabotage newly-elected President Bingu Mutharika's inauguration.
Justice George Chimasula-Phiri said the police action was justified at the time because national security was at stake, but rejected the police request to prolong the closure, saying it had no basis.
"Police must have completed their investigations by now. The period they have taken is unduly long," Chimasula-Phiri said.
The judge also observed that the closure of the station, which is in the same building as a journalism school, had a negative impact on students. Some students were to take examinations and others were scheduled to hold their graduation ceremony.
"We should be proud as a nation to have educated people. The authorities should have shown mercy on the students," he said.
The judge also ruled that the radio station could be compensated for loss of advertising revenue, but not for damage to the students' education.
This interim court order is pending a judicial review, in which MIJ contends that the police usurped the role of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) by closing down the station.
On 25 May, police stormed the MIJ radio station and arrested its manager and three broadcasters. Two of the broadcasters were released that same morning. MISA confirmed that the four were taken to the southern regional police headquarters and were later transferred to the Blantyre police station.
Manager Evance Masamba, along with broadcasters Tony Khoza, Arthur Chokhoto and Wonder Msiska, were arrested following the interview with Mkandawire, who vowed to make Malawi ungovernable following the 20 May general election results, which the opposition Mgwirizano Coalition disputed.
MIJ 90.3 FM Radio has been at loggerheads with the government. It broadcasts critical material that public broadcasters usually cover up. The government has attempted on numerous occasions to censor the station through the MACRA.