Malawi authorities should ensure journalists can report without fear of violence, harassment, or detention, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On the morning of June 30, police officers beat and briefly detained Oliver Malibisa, a reporter with the local Likoma Community Radio broadcaster, as he tried to cover a student demonstration at Likoma Secondary School in central Malawi, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and news reports.

“The assault and detention of journalist Oliver Malibisa by Malawi police was an attack on press freedom, and impunity for such acts sends an even more worrying message about journalist safety in the country,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York  “Journalists must be free to report on issues of public interest, like protests, without fear of violence or harassment.”

Malibisa told CPJ that an officer named Prosecutor Nyirenda hit him in the chest with a gun and told him to stop filming the demonstration.

Malibisa told CPJ that he continued filming, and then about five other officers “joined in harassing me. They started dragging me while shouting, ‘You are stupid, why are you here? Give us your phone.’ I complied and gave them the phone.”

The officers used pepper spray on Malibisa and drove him to the Likoma Police Station, where he was held for two hours, he said. He was released without charge, and his phone was returned on the order of the senior officer at the station, according to Malibisa and a statement posted on Facebook by the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional media freedom organization.

Malibisa told CPJ that while he was in detention, he asked to be able to use his phone to contact Likoma Community Radio manager Davie Kacholola or MISA-Malawi, but the police ignored his requests. 

Kacholola told CPJ via messaging app that “the matter was sorted out, everything is normal,” but he did not elaborate when asked for more details. Malibisa told CPJ he wanted an apology from the police.

Malawi Police Service spokesperson James Kadadzera did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls or questions sent via messaging app. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Nyirenda.

Previously, in April, Malawi police briefly detained Nyasa Times news website reporter Watipaso Mzungu and Joy Radio reporter Enock Balakasi, as CPJ documented at the time.