HIDING JOURNALIST FEARS ARREST

By: Natty Magwira

Investigative reporter Gregory Gondwe, who revealed the Malawian government’s intention to buy 32 armored vehicles from a company linked to corruption, is currently in concealment, fearing apprehension by the military.

In an article released on Monday, Gregory Gondwe, affiliated with the Platform for Investigative Journalism, cited anonymous military sources stating that the Malawi Defense Force had made substantial payments to a company associated with businessman Zuneth Sattar for military equipment.

Sattar is under investigation for alleged corruption.

The report disclosed a transaction totaling $4.98 million as part of a nearly $20 million agreement to procure 32 armored personnel carriers for the Malawi Defense Force, based on leaked documents from the Malawi Defense Force (MDF), challenging the government’s anti-corruption stance.

Sattar, residing in the United Kingdom, faces accusations of bribing Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima for government contracts.

Chilima was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2022, prompting Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera to suspend the vice president’s powers.

The Malawi government has stated it terminated all business dealings involving Sattar.

Speaking from an undisclosed location on Friday, Gondwe revealed he had gone into hiding after receiving information from military sources about plans to arrest him.

“The MDF’s discontent with these disclosures underscores the necessity for me to safeguard my source by avoiding any potential questioning or arrest,” he stated.

This marks the second occasion in three years that Gondwe has faced arrest for reporting on the government’s ties with Sattar.

In 2022, Malawi police detained Gondwe and confiscated his electronic devices for publishing leaked documents exposing another undisclosed government agreement with Sattar.

Gondwe resisted disclosing his sources to the police and was eventually released without conditions following interventions by press freedom organizations and the U.S. and British embassies in Malawi.

The Media Institute for Southern Africa in Malawi (MISA-Malawi) condemned the threats against Gondwe, warning of their chilling effect on journalism.

A delegation from approximately 15 civil society organizations in Malawi met with Minister of Defense Harry Mkandawire on Thursday, expressing concerns about the alleged intimidation of whistleblowers like Gondwe.

Benedicto Kondowe, chairperson for the National Advocacy Platform, informed reporters that the minister confirmed two key points.

“Firstly, a payment of over $5 million was indeed initiated to Sattar’s company, but remains pending at the Reserve Bank of Malawi,” Kondowe stated. “Secondly, this payment relates to a 2020 contract, delayed due to investigations into Sattar.”

Mkandawire and Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda assured local media that there are no plans to arrest Gondwe over his reporting.

However, Gondwe remains skeptical, citing the 2022 arrest of Anti-Corruption Bureau Director-General Martha Chizuma despite assurances from Malawi’s president not to penalize her for exposing a leaked audio implicating the government in receiving kickbacks from Sattar.

“Given this precedent, it’s difficult to accept the current assurances from the defense minister and other government officials at face value,” Gondwe remarked. “My past experiences compel me to approach their statements cautiously and prioritize my safety.”

Gondwe is collaborating with his legal team and other organizations to strategize his next steps.

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