By Duncan Mlanjira
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter condemn in the strongest manner possible the assault of Tuntufye Radio journalist, Patricia Kayuni by protesters in Chitipa district that took place on Friday, January 10.
In a statement issued by MISA Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga, says Kayuni was assaulted for allegedly taking pictures of the demonstrations near Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices in the district.
“The protesters beat up Kayuni, tried to undress her and broke her mobile phone. The police rescued Kayuni and took her to Chitipa District Hospital.”
The statement quotes Kayuni as saying the protesters thought she was taking pictures using a mobile phone and they continued assaulting her despite showing them that the phone was off at the time.
“The gang pulled off my braids. Beat me up and for a minute, I thought I would die. Police took me to the hospital where I have been treated as an outpatient,” Kayuni told MISA Malawi.
Ndanga says MISA Malawi upholds the right to demonstrate but it recognise the need to exercise the right to demonstrate in cognizance of other constitutional rights including media freedom and freedom of expression.
“Kayuni was not taking pictures of the demonstrators but even if she were taking the pictures that would not be a crime. Journalism is not a crime,” Ndanga says.
“MISA Malawi considers the attack barbaric and an affront to constitutional guarantees on media freedom and freedom of expression.
“We would like to ask the Malawi Police Service to investigate the matter and bring the culprits to book,” she said.
In an interview on Saturday morning, Kayuni said she was now feeling much better after the hospital treatment.
“I just have swellings around my hips due to the beating and I also have a sore head because they were pulling my braids,” she said.
It is reported that the Chitipa residents had stormed MRA offices to present a petition asking the government tax collecting body to remove officers at Mbilima Border Post whom they had earlier demanded to be withdrawn.
The residents are using MRA to force the government to upgrade the 35km stretch of the road that connects Chitipa Boma, the border post and Tanzania.
Last week, the concerned citizens issued a 7-day ultimatum (from January 2) that MRA should favourably respond to their concerns for better social amenities including the upgrade of the access road to border post, which is in bad shape.
The ultimatum had said if MRA would not respond favourably it should stop collecting tax at the post by removing its officers or expect unpleasant unspecified action.
The chaos started when leaders of the concerned citizens were discussing with MRA officers and reports say as one of the leaders was about to read a fresh petition, the crowd got incensed with Kayuni thinking she was taking pictures — suspecting her to be an undercover police officer.
As the crowd became agitated by attacking her, the police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse them, leading to the chaos in the streets.
Other ill intentioned citizens took advantage of the situation to cause more mayhem and looting around the Boma.
When the ultimatum was issued, MRA had maintained that the border post will remain intact and revenue will continue to be collected.
The petition to Chitipa MRA officer in charge was signed by nine concerned citizens and copied to the District Commissioner.
It said: “We feel it is hypocrisy of highest order and daylight robbery that you collect revenue from us at the said border post and yet the road network connecting is in bad shape.
“You, therefore, have no basis whatsoever for benefiting from us when your (government) service on the road leaves a lot to be desired.
“Do not civic educate us that road construction or upgrading is not your responsibility. The Malawi Government is one and all the services by governmental agencies and up in the OPC. Simple and straight forward.
“We, therefore give you 7 days to get rid of your officers from Mbilima Border Post or we will react in a manner you will not like.”
The concerned citizens also requests MRA to construct offices at the border post and not tents where the officers are currently operating from.
“What do you do with all the revenue that you are failing even to build your offices?” questions the petitioners, who all appended their signatures as well as provided phone contacts.
The petitioners acting on behalf of fellow citizens are Dave Msongole, Mernard Mwaungulu, Fred Mwanginde, Moir Simengwa, Alick Kalagho, George Nyondo, Raphael Kalinga, Nichoras Sinyangwe and Daniby Mubisa.