News / Africa

Nyasa Times Editors Seek Asylum in Britain

The Malawi government denies it's seeking to have them deported from Britain

Nyasa Times Editors Seek Asylum in Britain
Nyasa Times Editors Seek Asylum in Britain
Lameck Masina

Editors of the privately owned online publication The Nyasa Times say they’re seeking political asylum. The editors -- based in Leeds -- say Malawi’s government has asked the British High Commission in Lilongwe to help send them home to face charges. Malawian officials deny the allegation.

The Nyasa Times has often been a thorn in the side of Malawi’s authorities and even media groups. The web paper is well known for its criticism of the Malawian government, in general, and President Bingu wa Mutharika, in particular.

Critics say the Times deliberately twists information in an effort to harm authorities. In response, some government officials and media bodies in Malawi have asked the paper’s editors to adhere to journalistic ethics.

Nyasa Times Managing Director, Edgar Chibaka
Nyasa Times Managing Director, Edgar Chibaka

The paper’s publishers deny the paper is biased. The managing director and owner of the web publication, Edgar Chibaka, told VOA the Times is not a government critic, but a mouthpiece for all marginalized groups:

"In a democracy, the government, and especially the president himself, should understand that not everybody else will be on his side."

"We are not necessarily critical of the government, but we are giving the opposition a mouth-piece to channel their views which cannot be heard in parliament, or on state [radio and television]. So, if we don’t stand up for them, where else are their voices going to be heard?"

Chibaka and editor Thom Chiumia, who are members of the London-based Exiled Journalists Network, say Malawi’s government is asking the UK courts to deport them so they can stand trial on charges of publishing seditious material. Those found guilty of sedition can be imprisoned; those found guilty of libel are fined.

Chibaka says "impeccable sources" have told them security agents from Malawi are in Britain, and that the editors will be persecuted if sent home.

Nyasa Times Editor Thom Chiumia
Nyasa Times Editor Thom Chiumia

He says their lives, and also those of their children, are at risk, and that they will all be subjected to "the same torture, degrading treatment and persecution as was the case under [former president] Hastings Kamuzu Banda."

The two men have hired a private immigration lawyer from Leeds to defend them.

The Nyasa Times came under fire before last year’s general elections for publishing a story alleging president Mutharika had fallen ill and was in a coma.

The government and two independent media watch dogs -- the Media Council of Malawi and the Media Institute for Southern Africa -- condemned the story. They asked the online publication to stop publishing articles that they say could cause alarm and panic.

The paper retracted the story, but the government said the move was not made in good faith, because the two men later continued to stand by the article.

In response, the former chief political adviser to the President, Dr Hetherwick Ntaba issued a statement in February 2009 outlining the government's views. Since the two men insisted on defending the story, the statement read, the government would take them to court, "where they will meet the consequences of their dishonest and shameful mercenary journalism."

Ntaba, who was also the spokesperson for the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP), said the government was "compiling a full range of their fabrications, apologies and retractions against the President." Ntaba said the editors shouldn’t expect to be sheltered by geographical distance because the government had their contacts and knew where they lived in the United Kingdom.

Ntaba, who is now the General Secretary of the DPP, denied in a VOA interview that the government is orchestrating a move to deport the two men:

"These people have been writing trash all these years. Why would the government be worried about these characters now? They have been living peacefully all these years.... Nobody has interfered with them. [Allegations of government persecution] are a fabrication by Nyasa Times. This is not the first time they [have]spread false stories....."

Ntaba says he doesn’t take the web-based publication seriously: "It’s a publication I don’t respect, and I don’t think any Malawian who knows the truth has any respect for them."

The executive director of the local human rights organization ‘Malawi Watch,’ Billy Banda, has an opposing view:

"I think they are covering important issues of national interest that may not have been covered by any other media house."

Banda says speculation concerning the possible deportation of the Nyasa Times editors may be accurate considering how the government deals with dissent: "We should not only speak about the Nyasa Times. Look at The Nation newspaper today. It is highly squeezed."

He says The Nation has not been able to attract either government or private advertising, a situation that leads him to suspect the government is trying to suppress the publication: "I think the death or demise of [critical media] is a way of going back to dictatorship."

Officials with the British High Commission to Malawi say they cannot comment on individual cases. But in an e-mail, the Political and Public Relations officer, Lewis Kulisewa, said the removal of those who have no right to remain in UK remains a priority for the (British) government.

Editors of Malawi’s privately owned online publication Nyasa Times say they’re seeking political asylum in Britain. The editors -- based in Leeds -- say Malawi’s government has asked authorities at the British High Commission to Malawi to help send them home to face charges. But the Malawi government denies the allegation.

The Nyasa Times has often been a thorn in the side of Malawi’s authorities and even media groups. The Times is well known for its criticism of the Malawian government in general and President Bingu wa Mutharika in particular.

One of the editors, Thom Chiumia, was the president of the now defunct political opposition party ‘New Dawn for Africa’.

Some say the paper has favored the opposition United Democratic Front. Critics say the Times deliberately twists information in an effort to damage the government.

Some government politicians and media bodies in Malawi are asking the paper’s editors to be sure their news coverage follows journalistic ethics. The paper’s publishers deny the paper is biased.

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, no fan of the controversial website
Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, no fan of the controversial website

The managing director and owner of the web publication, Edgar Chibaka, told VOA the Times is not a government critic, but a mouthpiece for all marginalized groups:

"In a democracy, the government, especially the president himself, should understand that not everybody else will be on his side."

"We are not necessarily critical of the government, but we are giving the opposition a mouth-piece to channel their views which cannot be heard in parliament, or on state [radio and television]. So, if we don’t stand up for them, where else are their voices going to be heard?"

Chibaka and editor Thom Chiumia, who are members of the London based Exiled Journalists Network, say Malawi’s government is asking the UK courts to deport them so they can stand trial on charges of publishing seditious material. Those found guilty of sedition can be imprisoned; those found guilty of libel are fined.

Chibaka says "impeccable sources" have told them security agents from Malawi are in Britain, and that the editors will be persecuted if sent back to Malawi.

Not only are their lives at stake, he adds, but also their children’s lives. He says, "they will also be subjected to the same torture, degrading treatment and persecution as was the case under [former president] Hastings Kamuzu Banda."

The two men have hired a private immigration lawyer from Leeds to defend them.

The Nyasa Times came under fire before last year’s general elections for publishing a story alleging president Mutharika had fallen ill and was in a coma.

The government and two independent media watch dogs -- the Media Council of Malawi and the Media Institute for Southern Africa -- condemned the story. They asked the online publication to stop publishing articles that they say would cause alarm and panic.

The government said the newspaper’s retraction was not made in good faith, because the two men continued to stand by the story after the apology.

The government’s displeasure was made clear in a February, 2009 press release from then chief political adviser to the President, Dr Hetherwick Ntaba. He wrote that since the two men insisted on standing by the story, the government would take them to court, "where they will meet the consequences of their dishonest and shameful mercenary journalism."

Ntaba, who was also the spokesperson for the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP), said the government was "compiling a full range of their fabrications, apologies and retractions against the President."

Ntaba said the editors shouldn’t expect to be sheltered by distance because the government knows their contacts and locations in Malawi and the United Kingdom.

Ntaba, who is now the General Secretary of the DPP, denied in a VOA interview that the government is orchestrating a move to deport the editors:

“These people have been writing trash all these years. Why would the government be worried about these characters now? They have been living peacefully all these years; why are they manufacturing their own danger now.

"They have always been in peace to write a lot of trash against the government. Nobody has interfered with them. It’s a fabrication by Nyasa Times. This is not the first time they will spread the false stories against the government."

Ntaba says he doesn’t take the stories of the web-based publication seriously: "They have been writing false things about me. It’s a publication I don’t respect, and I don’t think any Malawian who knows the truth has any respect for them."

The executive director of the local human rights organization ‘Malawi Watch,’ Billy Banda, has an opposing view:

"I think they are covering important issues of national interest that may not have been covered by any other media house."

Banda says speculation concerning the possible deportation of the Nyasa Times editors could be correct considering how the government deals with dissent:

"We should not only speak about the Nyasa Times. Look at The Nation newspaper today. It is highly squeezed."

He says the papers are not given private or public financial support. This creates the fear, Banda says, that the paper is in the process of being suppressed, "I think the death or demise of the media is an automatic way of going back to dictatorship."

The officials of the British High Commission to Malawi say they cannot comment on individual cases. But in an e-mail, the Political and Public Relations officer, Lewis Kulisewa, said the removal of those who have no right to remain in UK remains a priority for the (British) government.

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