Journalist in Malawi Arrested for Exposing Businessman’s Corruption

Human rights organizations have criticized the arrest of a journalist in Malawi for publishing an article implicating a prominent businessman in corruption. Macmillan Mhone was detained in Blantyre by police following his report on the Malawi 24 news website last August. The 34-year-old reporter faces charges of “publication of news likely to cause fear and public alarm; cyber-spamming; and extortion” and has been released on bail.

Mhone’s article alleged that businessman Abdul Karim Batatawala used proxy companies to secure government contracts while on trial for corruption-related charges. Although Batatawala denies these allegations, he was previously arrested in 2021 by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on suspicions of fraud and money laundering for the Malawi government. The arrest followed a complaint from Batatawala claiming that Mhone attempted to extort money from him.

Gift Trapence, deputy chair of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, strongly condemned the charges, emphasizing the need to uphold journalistic freedoms. Similarly, Mhone’s lawyer, Joseph Lihoma, criticized the decision to transport Mhone 200 miles to charge him in the capital, Lilongwe, suggesting it should have been handled locally in Blantyre.

The Malawi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) and its chairperson, Golden Matonga, described the arrest and transfer as forms of intimidation and called for the charges to be dropped, citing no public harm from the article. Governance commentator Undule Mwakasungula warned that fear of arrest among journalists could stifle investigative reporting and lead to a rise in corruption and human rights abuses.

President Lazarus Chakwera has publicly committed to protecting press freedom, a principle enshrined in Malawi’s constitution. Meanwhile, incidents like the detention of reporter Gregory Gondwe in 2022 for refusing to reveal sources in a corruption story highlight ongoing challenges to press freedom in Malawi.