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Man convicted for insulting Malawian President with TikTok video

A man has been convicted in Malawi for insulting President Lazarus Chakwera through a TikTok video.

President Lazarus Chakwera

The video featured an animated figure with Chakwera's face superimposed, performing comical dance moves. Sainani Nkhoma was found guilty on Thursday of sharing the video along with offensive remarks about the president in a community WhatsApp group.

Judge Talakwanji Mndala presided over the case, deeming Nkhoma’s actions inappropriate. The judge announced that sentencing is set for next week, cautioning that the penalties could include a fine of around $3,500 or a prison term of up to six years.

According to Africanews.com, the incident came to light when members of the WhatsApp group in Mponela, a central town, reported Nkhoma to the ruling Malawi Congress Party. Authorities swiftly responded, leading to Nkhoma's arrest on Tuesday night.

President Chakwera rose to power in 2020 after the Constitutional Court mandated an unprecedented re-run of the 2019 presidential election. The initial results had declared incumbent Peter Mutharika the winner, but the court identified significant irregularities, necessitating a new election.

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This case underscores ongoing tensions in Malawi between freedom of expression and respect for authority, raising important questions about the limits of digital speech.

In May 2022, free speech advocates condemned the arrest of a nurse for criticizing President Chakwera during a WhatsApp discussion on governance. Chidawawa Mainje, 39, was charged with cyber harassment and faced up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine if convicted

Mainje was arrested after using an expletive to criticize the president's impact on the lives of Malawians.

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The police, invoking the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act 2016, defended the arrest. Deputy spokesperson Harry Namwaza emphasized the need for responsibility when exercising freedom of speech, stating, “You can’t enjoy your freedom or your rights while at the same time, you are infringing the rights of others. It doesn’t work like that.”

The arrest of Mainje came just a week after a 51-year-old man in Lilongwe was detained for allegedly insulting the labor minister in a WhatsApp group.

Michael Kayiyatsa, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, criticized the arrest as a violation of free expression.

“The guy who was arrested was expressing an opinion which was not favorable to the president. But it’s within his right to express such views, and he is protected by Section 35 of our constitution," Kayiyatsa argued.

"So, the best that police should have done is simply to provide advice, but this is somebody expressing their views.”

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These incidents have drawn international attention, they underscore a growing tension in Malawi between governmental authority and individual freedoms.

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