NEW CHARGES OVER 'GHOST STORY'- from NEWS24.com 22/03/2005 13:17 - (SA)
Blantyre - Two journalists charged in Malawi for reporting that President Bingu wa Mutharika was afraid of ghosts
will face a new charge of "causing ridicule" to the chief executive, a top prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Raphael Tenthani, who works for the BBC, and Mabvuto Banda, a journalist for the Nation newspaper who also reports for
the Reuters news agency, were arrested and charged with publishing false information on March 15 for reporting that Mutharika
had moved out of a newly-built palace because he believed it was haunted.
Director of public prosecutions Ishmael Wadi told state television on Tuesday that the two journalists, who were released
without bail, would be charged for "causing ridicule to the high office of the president."
"The statements published were untrue," said Wadi, who did not provide details on the new charges.
The journalists quoted an aide to Mutharika as saying that the president had abandoned the $100m palace in Lilongwe because
he had been hearing "strange noises that keep him awake or feels rodents crawling all over his body but when he turns on the
lights, he sees nothing."
"It's true that the president is no longer staying there and we have asked clerics from several Christian churches including
the Roman Catholic to pray for the new state house to exorcise evil spirits," said Reverend Malani Mtonga, who is the president's
advisor on religious affairs.
Mutharika angrily denied the reports when he returned from a trip to Belgium, saying: "I have never feared ghosts in my
The government also declared that the president was a "God-fearing man and the articles about the ghosts should be looked
upon with contempt."
Tenthani and Banda were arrested at their Blantyre homes at dawn and driven to Lilongwe under police escort where they
were charged with "publishing false information likely to cause public alarm."
A third person, Horace Nyaka, who is an aide to vice-president Cassim Chilumpha, was also arrested and charged with the
same offence. He too was released on bail.
It was the first time that journalists have been arrested in Malawi since Mutharika was elected to the presidency in May
last year, replacing Bakili Muluzi who had ruled the southern African country since 1994.
The palace, containing 300 air-conditioned rooms and set in 555 hectares of land outside the capital, is widely seen as
a folly of the country's founding president Kamuzu Banda.
Muluzi refused to live in the palace, saying it was too extravagant.
Until last year the building housed the parliament but Mutharika told the lawmakers to move, saying it was intended to
be a residence and should "revert to its original proper use."