Malawi's attorney general has apologized for police detaining a journalist and trying to force him to reveal his sources on a government corruption story. The rare public apology came after the government faced criticism from advocates for press freedom and the U.S. and British embassies in Malawi.
The Media Institute for Southern Africa in Malawi, MISA-Malawi, says Attorney General Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda offered an apology Wednesday during a meeting at his office in the capital Lilongwe.
Teresa Ndanga is chairperson for MISA-Malawi, a media freedom watchdog group.
"During that meeting, the attorney general expressed his apologies," Ndanga said. "He sent his apologies to the journalist; he sent his apologies to MISA and he sent his apologies to the media industry in Malawi. And he agrees that the arrest was not right.”
Police picked up journalist Gregory Gondwe, who works for the Platform for Investigative Journalism, on Tuesday, after Attorney General Chakaka Nyirenda said he would take action against those who leaked a document which Gondwe used in his story, published on March 30.
The document appeared to show Nyirenda allowing the government to make payments to the corruption suspect, Zuneth Sattar.
That move runs counter to Nyirenda’s actions in January, when he publicly terminated all of Sattar’s contracts with the government and restricted any payment on the same.
During the interrogation, Gondwe said police unsuccessfully pressured him into revealing how and where he got the document.
The journalist was released after four hours, following local and international pressure on Malawi to let him go.
The attorney general told VOA Thursday that he apologized to fulfill his duty.
“Even though I was not aware of what happened to Mr. Gondwe, I did indicate that I am a legal adviser to the government and any issues that are legal in nature come to me," Nyirenda said. "So, in that vein whatever happened I had to own it. In that event therefore, because I am owning it, I had a duty to apologize.”
Police said Wednesday that they did not actually arrest Gondwe but only invited him for an interview as part of an investigation into an issue they declined to disclose.
Gondwe said although police returned his equipment, some of the applications, contacts and information in his phone and computer had been tampered with.
"When the gadgets were with them, sources and some people that I talked to were sending messages and contacts, which could as well be a problem if they start suspecting that people who were contacting me could be my sources," Gondwe said.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the U.S. and British embassies in Malawi asked police to immediately return the confiscated equipment to Gondwe and respect any private information found there.
MISA-Malawi says in a statement that it is planning to meet the inspector general of police to ask authorities to never use any information extracted from Gondwe's equipment– if the government’s apology is to be taken seriously.