Bingu wa Mutharika

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Malawi crackdown on protests, journalists and my friend Collins | 

Collins Mtika

Last I heard, my friend and colleague Collins Mtika — a journalist in Malawi — was in jail.

There have been protests in Malawi over high food prices, corruption in government (remember how the so-called “Arab spring” started?).

As a result, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika has cracked down hard, which has led to some deaths, alleged government death threats against protest leaders, all of which is causing many to go into hiding.

Obviously, this is a story journalists need to cover.

I met Collins at an AIDS conference in Atlanta not long ago. We were both there thanks to funding by the National Press Foundation. Collins is a big, quiet guy with a gentle laugh.

Just before the unrest erupted in Malawi, I had been corresponding by email with him, asking for his help in a little dispute I was having with another Malawian journalist (not relevant).

Then, last week when the protests erupted, I learned Collins had been arrested and was being held without charge. Other journalists were beaten by police, according to reports.

There’s a lot going on around the world and this is, perhaps, a small story compared to other tragedies and conflicts. But I know Collins and I intend to pay attention to what happens to him. That’s one way we all hold governments and those in authority to account.

I hope other local organizations with connections in Malawi will put pressure on the Mutharika government to respect freedom of the press, democracy and the rule of law. I imagine (but don’t know, off the top of my head) that there may be a number of organizations here in Seattle working on global health or anti-poverty projects in Malawi.

I don’t know much about the Malawi Seattle Association except that it is aimed at improving business ties between this poor African nation and the Seattle business community. A first step might be for the government to stop putting journalists in jail and accusing them of treason just for doing their job.