Malawi Police accused of hacking Platform for Investigative Journalism website

Media body MISA Malawi says it cannot rule out the involvement of State agents in the hacking of Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) website, which happened days after the Malawi Police Service (MPS) detained PIJ Managing Director Gregory Gondwe and held on to his computer and phone for a night.

Malawi Police Service has since hit back at MISA Malawi over the allegations.

The hacking of the website was noted on Thursday, April 14, 2022 and the site remained inaccessible for many hours on Friday. However, the site is now back online but PIJ said it was still working on fully recovering it

The incident happened nine days after officers from the Malawi Police Gondwe and confiscated his equipment, which raised serious privacy concerns.

In a statement on Friday, MISA Malawi Chairperson Teresa Temweka Ndanga said the hacking incident vindicates such fears.

“We believe the hacking incident is not a mere coincidence. MISA Malawi believes the hacking is intentional and we cannot rule out the involvement of State agents considering the circumstances.

“We are concerned that the police officers who must be in the forefront to combat Cybersecurity risks of Malawians and others in the country were directly involved in actions that qualify them as prime suspects in this Cyber-attack,” said Ndanga.

She added that the hacking is a direct attack on media freedom, right to access information and a criminal offence under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016.

She also noted that the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016 prohibits hacking, cracking and introduction of viruses and any person who commits such offences is liable to a fine and to imprisonment for seven years.

Ndanga then demanded the State to investigate and prosecute anybody who violated section 21 of the Constitution of Malawi by violating Gondwe’s privacy, saying the same people are now prime suspects in this hacking incident.

“We wish to remind government that these continued attacks on journalists are tarnishing the country’s image on press freedom, a fundamental component in a democratic society.

“We would like to appeal to journalists in the country to not cower down to such intimidation tactics. The calling to practice journalism is to the service of society and where some groups take desperate measures to interfere with the work of the media is validation that journalists are on the right course.

“MISA Malawi also appeals to rights bodies in the country, diplomatic missions and lawyers of good will to join us in the fight for media freedom and to further protect citizen’s right to know,” she said.

But in its own statement yesterday, Malawi Police rejected the claim that it is behind the cyber hacking.

Deputy Police spokesperson Harry Namwaza said in a statement that MISA’s allegations is only based on the interrogation of Gondwe by the Police.

“The MPS observed that MISA Malawi does not provide evidence to substantiate the allegation,” said Namwaza.

He argued that the police service is mandated to summon and investigate any person whom the law enforcers believe is required in the course of an investigation.

Namwaza then urged independent bodies with capacity to join hands with police in ensuring that those behind the hacking of the PIJ website are identified, arrested and prosecuted.