Chinyeke Tembo, a Malawian freelance journalist who was arrested Thursday for calling a lady police officer ‘beautiful’, was Friday charged with ‘insulting the modesty of a woman’.
“Yes, I am out on bail but what is wrong about admiring beauty?” said Tembo outside the courtroom.
Tembo was arrested when he was among a group of journalists who had gone to a police station in the capital, Lilongwe, to give ‘moral support’ to a colleague, Maxwell Ng’ambi, who was arrested earlier.
Ng’ambi, a senior reporter at The Nation, who was also arrested Thursday for allegedly interviewing a jailed senior opposition politician, has also been charged with providing false information to a public officer.
Police claim Tembo, programme manager for Journalists Association Against HIV/AI DS (JournAIDS), fondled the senior police officer’s buttocks. But Tembo disputed this, saying: “How can one do that within police premises? I only remarked that she was beautiful.”
Tembo, who has worked for both the country’s dailies – The Daily Times and The Nation – said soon after making that remark two uniformed police officers pounced on him.
“They beat me like hell,” he said. “I am still in pain now.”
Tembo said he would lodge an official complaint with the Malawi Human Rights Commission because “even if it is wrong to admire beauty but I don’t deserve a beating”.
National Media Institute of Southern Africa (NAMISA) National Director Innocent Chitosi also condemned the beating.
“The arrest, though excessive, was enough but the beating was unacceptable,” he said, adding that the media rights body was investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, Ng’ambi has since denied using subtefuge to enter Maula Prison to interview the convicted politician.
“They asked me my name, where I stay, I told them. I was merely going to see som eone I have interacted with for a long time,” he said. “I was surprised they pou n ced on me and hauled me to police.”
Sam Mpasu, a former Speaker of Parliament and senior official of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), was convicted on abuse of office charges.
Police have since told Ng’ambi to report Monday since they were still investigat ing. But NAMISA has called for the dismissal of Ng’ambi’s charges.
“The police can best use their resources to important areas like fighting crimes, not fighting journalists,” he said.
The arrest of Ng’ambi and Tembo comes only months after Malawi President Binguwa Mutharika defended his human rights record, saying since assuming office in 2004 there were no prisoners of conscience and no journalist was in jail for political reasons.