The IPI global network welcomes Malawi’s release of journalist Macmillan Mhone following his arrest on cybercrime charges. However, we call on authorities to drop all charges against him. Malawi must ensure that its cybercrime law is not abused to target journalists.

On April 8, the police’s Cyber Crimes Division in Blantyre detained Mhone, who works for the online news site Nation Publications Limited. Authorities have reportedly charged him with “cyber spamming”, “publication of news likely to cause fear or public alarm”, and “extortion” under Malawi’s Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act.

Additionally, police transferred Mhone from Blantyre to Lilongwe Police Headquarters, 300 kilometers away from his home and family. There is concern that this move was an attempt to intimidate him. Authorities released Mhone on bail the following day, pending further investigation.

Mhone’s arrest stems from a story published in August 2023 by the online news outlet Malawi24, where he worked at the time. The story said that businessman Abdul Karim Batatwala was using proxy companies to circumvent a court order barring him from conducting business with the government due to corruption and fraud charges.

This is at least the second time in less than three months that press freedom has come under attack in Malawi. In February, journalist Gregory Gondwe was threatened after exposing corruption related to the supply of military equipment.

Let journalists work without reprisal

IPI calls on the authorities in Malawi to respect media freedom and stop harassing journalists for doing their job.

“The continued targeting of journalists in Malawi for exposing corruption is a cause for concern. Authorities must allow the media to perform its watchdog role without fear of reprisals. Police should instead channel resources toward investigating alleged corruption,” said Nompilo Simanje, IPI Africa Advocacy and Partnerships Lead.

Following the arrest and transfer of Mhone, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi chapter also demanded Mhone’s release. It emphasized the story in question did not in any way cause fear or public panic.

Simanje added: “The increasingly abusive use of cyber laws to stifle press freedom and silence critical journalists is very worrying. Malawi must ensure its cybercrime law aligns with regional and international standards on press freedom”

The use of the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act to charge Mhone points to a larger global trend of using cybercrime laws to target journalists. IPI calls on the authorities in Malawi to stop weaponizing the law to undermine fundamental freedoms.