BLANTYRE — Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has signed a new law that allows his information minister to ban publications deemed "contrary to the public interest", an official said Wednesday.
"The amendment to the penal code amendment bill of 2009 has been assented to. It was one of the 46 bills the president okayed," a senior parliamentary official told AFP.
The new law gives powers to the information minister to ban a publication if he has "reasonable grounds to believe that the publication or importation of any publication would be contrary to the public interest."
The head of a local media watchdog criticised the Mutharika administration for signing off on the bill.
"The media in Malawi is under siege and the hard-won democracy under extreme threat," Anthony Kasunda, chair of the Malawi chapter of the watchdog group Media Institute of Southern Africa, told AFP.
He said the law could be "construed as a strategic move by government to deliberately target publications that are critical of the Mutharika administration."
Mutharika, who often accuses local independent newspapers of negative reporting about Malawi, last year threatened to shut down papers he accused of lying when they reported that up to one million people would need food aid.
Malawi in 1995 adopted a new constitution with a bill of rights that guarantees the freedom of the press, after decades of oppressive rule under dictator Kamuzu Banda during which miniskirts and long hair for men were outlawed.
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