Malawi

Partly Free
57
100
A Obstacles to Access 11 25
B Limits on Content 25 35
C Violations of User Rights 21 40
Last Year's Score & Status
59 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom in Malawi declined during the coverage period, as state authorities retaliated against journalists who published corruption allegations against the government. The arrests and detentions of journalists who cover political leaders or discuss corruption in their online content has resulted in increased self-censorship. Online news outlets have been subject to government manipulation via unofficial directives in recent years, though there were no reported cases of censorship or forced removal of content during the coverage period.

Malawi holds regular elections and has undergone multiple transfers of power between political parties, most recently in June 2020. Political rights and civil liberties are for the most part respected by the state. However, corruption is endemic, police brutality is common, and discrimination and violence toward women, members of minority groups, and people with albinism remain problems.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • In an effort to lower internet service costs, Malawi’s two dominant mobile internet providers, Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and Airtel Malawi, introduced more affordable internet packages for customers (see A2).
  • Several individuals were arrested and charged under the 2016 Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Law for their online content, though none received prison sentences (see C3).
  • In April 2022, Gregory Gondwe, the chief executive of the Platform for Investigative Journalism, was interrogated by police after he published a story exposing corruption within the government. A few days later, the Platform for Investigative Journalism’s website was hacked (see C3 and C8).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 1.001 6.006

Landlocked Malawi—with a population of more than 17.6 million1 people—has one of the lowest and slowest-growing rates of internet access in the world. According to the latest data from the Malawi Government’s National Statistics Office (NSO), internet penetration stood at 14.6 percent in 2019.2 DataReportal, in contrast, reports an internet penetration rate of 20.2 percent as of January 2022,3 an increase from 17.8 percent in January 2021.4

According to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) statistics from 2018, fixed broadband subscriptions are extremely rare, at less than 1 percent. Mobile phone penetration is also low, at 39 percent as of 2020, down from 44 percent in 2018.5 The decline in mobile phone subscriptions may be the result of the removal of unregistered SIM cards after SIM card registration requirements were implemented in 2018. The NSO data indicate that that 37 percent of households owned a mobile phone and 2.8 percent of individuals owned a computer as of 2019.6

The few users who have internet access experience slow internet speeds. According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2022 report, the average fixed-line broadband upload speed in Malawi is 12.62 megabits per second (Mbps) and the average fixed broadband download speed is 13.36 Mbps, while mobile speeds average 14.58 Mbps for upload and 30.63 Mbps for download.7 This is a reflection of the rising costs of the internet service provision due to poor infrastructure management and lack of investment. Malawi’s flagging economy over the past few years has reinforced its status as a least developed country, with soaring inflation negatively impacting the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.

Unreliable electricity and the high cost of fuel-generator power strain ICT use. According to the World Bank, just 12.7 percent of the country has access to electricity, giving Malawi one of the lowest electrification rates in the world.8 Frequent electricity blackouts remain one of the country’s biggest problems, with slight improvements seen during the rainy season as increased water levels enhance hydroelectric generation. Inconsistent rainfall and droughts, which are expected to be increasingly frequent problems because of climate change, have a negative effect on power production.9 During the coverage period, for example, Malawi’s only energy supplier lost a third of its power generating capacity during a tropical storm.10 The sporadic and infrequent power supply adversely affects the delivery of internet and mobile services in the country.11 Half of Malawi’s private-sector enterprises rely on backup generators.

As a result of Malawi’s landlocked location, it is connected to the international fiber-optic network in Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, and Tanzania through the SEACOM and EASSy (Eastern African Submarine Cable System) networks. The fiber-optic network SimbaNET was launched in May 2016, establishing a connection between the capital, Lilongwe, and Tanzania.12 In April 2018, the Malawi National Optic Fibre Backbone Project was completed by the Chinese company Huawei, with the promise of faster internet service;13 as of May 2022, the project does not appear to have increased speeds.

The country’s ICT backbone is entirely national in nature, with no regional integration yet in place. The scarcity of regional internet exchange points forces telecom companies to rely on upstream service providers that are usually based outside the country, in Europe or North America. Data that should be exchanged locally within Malawi or regionally must pass outside Africa, resulting in an unnecessary and expensive use of upstream bandwidth.

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1.001 3.003

Access to the internet is prohibitively expensive for the majority of people in the country, due to high data tariffs and expensive devices. In April 2021, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) called on mobile service providers to lower the cost of data, specifically the cost of 1 gigabyte (GB) bundles.1 In March 2022 the country’s two dominant mobile internet providers, TNM and Airtel Malawi, introduced internet bundles on a promotional basis, which are cheaper than the existing options.2

As of March 2022, a monthly 10 GB data bundle cost 15,500 kwacha ($19) with both Airtel Malawi3 and TNM.4 Subscribers are also charged a 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5 percent VAT on internet services,5 and an additional 10 percent excise duty on mobile phone text messages and internet data transfers.6 The country’s minimum monthly wage is 50,000 kwacha ($61) as of January 2022, and most Malawians are employed outside of the formal sector.7

In November 2020, MACRA indicated it would introduce regulations removing expiration dates for internet bundles.8 No such regulation was issued as of August 2022, though Airtel Malawi voluntarily released a no-expiry bundle in April 2021.9

Internet costs impact the country’s poor the hardest, as those without access are effectively shut out of an increasingly digital world and important services, such as mobile banking and money services, which could help lift them out of poverty, and essential communications platforms. In July 2020, Malawians mobilized online to ask the government to address concerns about the high cost of internet data (see B8).10 A coalition of civil society organizations also appealed to the government to make the internet more affordable.11

Geographic location creates a divide in internet access. The high cost of infrastructure development in rural areas makes companies unwilling to invest in the country’s remote regions. According to an August 2020 NSO report, 40.7 percent of people in urban areas had access to the internet, as opposed to 9.3 percent of those in rural areas.12 The Universal Service Fund (USF), which aims at increasing infrastructure in rural and hard-to-reach areas of the country, remains inoperable, although MACRA outlined a 5-year strategic plan for the fund in May 2022.13 The electric grid is concentrated in urban centers, giving 62 percent of urban households’ access to electricity, compared to a mere 5 percent of rural households.14 A low literacy rate of 62 percent15 also remains a barrier to accessing ICTs.

There is a significant digital divide along gender lines.16 According to the NSO, 15.4 percent of men use the internet in Malawi, as compared to 12.4 percent of women.17

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 5.005 6.006

There were no connectivity restrictions imposed during the coverage period, though outages during political events such as elections have been reported in the past. The government of Malawi does not have centralized control over the international gateway.1

In May 2019, shortly after polling stations for Malawi’s 2019 tripartite elections had closed, NetBlocks reported a network outage “spanning several hours” in which nationwide connectivity fell to 80 percent of normal levels, raising concerns that connectivity was intentionally disrupted. According to the report, the affected networks were Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL), which is 20 percent owned by the government, the fiber-optic network SimbaNET, and the ICT infrastructure operator Malswitch (now called Nitel).2 The report noted that connectivity via privately owned internet providers generally remained available.3 However, the network outage was not noticed locally, perhaps because outages in the sporadic internet service supply are common. Adding to concerns that ICT services were intentionally disrupted, private radio broadcasters also experienced disruptions for several hours. It was reported that only Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Radio 1, which is state-run, was unaffected.4

According to a report by the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the government denied that there was a network disruption and said that vandals had damaged infrastructure, causing a temporary shutdown. However, the report also noted that MACRA resisted the government’s attempts to shut down the internet; it also alleged that the government applied direct pressure on internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their networks.5

Malawi has a total of six fiber-optic gateways to the SEACOM and EASSy cable landings, three each through MTL and the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi Limited (ESCOM). The state-owned Malawi Sustainable Development Network Program (SDNP), a licensed ISP, oversees the local traffic hub that connects the country’s ISPs, but it does not have the capacity to block content or restrict connectivity.6

Article 24(2)(e) of the 2016 Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act provides that online public communication may be restricted in order to “protect order and national security,” while article 24(2)(f) provides that online public communication may be restricted in order to “facilitate technical restriction to conditional access to online communication.”7 These provisions are vulnerable to state abuse and could be used by the government to implement full or partial internet shutdowns.

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 3.003 6.006

There are no legal or regulatory barriers that restrict the diversity of service providers. However, there is a lack of diversity among mobile service providers in the country.

Mobile phone services, which are used by the majority of Malawians, are offered by three providers—Airtel Malawi, TNM, and Access Communications.1 The industry is dominated by a de facto duopoly of Airtel Malawi and TNM, whose internet prices are almost the same. Access Communications, a fixed-line broadband provider that also offers mobile services, presents no serious competition to the two main operators.2 In August 2020, President Chakwera indicated support for the licensing of a third mobile phone operator to promote competition.3 According to a May 2022 report, Nyasa Mobile Limited was set to become the third mobile phone operator in Malawi.4

Malawi’s ICT market is reasonably competitive with 50 licensed ISPs, the majority of which are privately owned, with the exception of SDNP.5 Political connections are often necessary to obtain licenses from MACRA (see A5).

MTL operates the country’s telecommunications backbone, leasing its infrastructure to most ISPs and mobile providers in the country.6 Previously a government-owned entity, MTL was privatized in 2005; at present, the government retains 20 percent of MTL shares while Telecomm Holdings Limited holds the other 80 percent. MTL decommissioned its mobile phone service in December 2017.7

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 1.001 4.004

The telecommunications regulator, MACRA, lacks political independence and is generally considered corrupt. MACRA’s board is appointed by the president and the regulator has strong links to the Ministry of Information.

MACRA remains the country’s sole telecommunications regulator, though there are reports that the government may seek to establish a regulatory authority focused on the ICT sector.1 MACRA was established under the 1998 Communications Act to regulate the entire telecommunications sector and issue operating licenses for mobile and fixed-line phone service providers, ISPs, and cybercafés.

The institutional structure of MACRA is subject to political interference, with its board composed of a chair and six other members appointed by the president, and two ex-officio members—the secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, and the secretary of the Ministry of Information.2 The director general of MACRA, whose appointment is also overseen by the president, heads the authority’s management and supports the board of directors in the execution of its mandate. Article 5(1) of the Communications Act stipulates that MACRA may seek direction from the Ministry of Information on its duties. 3

Former MACRA board members and officials have faced corruption charges.4 In April 2022, MACRA suspended five senior managers without apparent reason.5 In May 2021, a government watchdog found widespread misconduct in MACRA’s recruitment practices.6 In its 2015–20 Strategic Plan, the regulator states that one of its weaknesses is a perceived bias in regulation by operators.7

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6.006 6.006

While past regimes have censored internet content,1 the current government does not block or filter content aside from child sexual abuse images. Social media platforms are widely available.

  • 1During violent anti-government protests in July 2011, MACRA reportedly ordered ISPs to block certain news websites and social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter, in a supposed effort to quell the spread of violence. See Michael Malakata, “Malawi blocks social media networks to quell protests,” Computer World, July 22, 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20110726185847/http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cf….
B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 3.003 4.004

There were no publicly reported cases of content removal in Malawi during the coverage period. However, according to Moses Michael-Phiri—a news editor with Nation Publications Limited (NPL), which publishes a daily print and online newspaper—forced content removal was common in past years. According to Phiri, these removals are ordered by top government and ruling party officials. Previously, such officials, including a government minister, ordered NPL to remove content on at least three occasions.1

  • 1Author interview with Moses Michael Phiri, news editor at Nation Publications Limited, on February 26, 2020.
B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 3.003 4.004

While there were no cases of restrictions on internet usage during the coverage period, the 2016 Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act contains vague provisions that could be used by the government to restrict online content. Article 24 allows for restrictions on online public communications to “protect public order and national security,” a broad provision that is open to abuse.1 The same article would also “facilitate technical restriction to conditional access to online communication,” an unclear statement that could be interpreted to enable network shutdowns or blocks on social media platforms.

Without central control over infrastructure, the most direct way for the government to restrict connection would be through an agreement with private telecommunications operators.2 Malawi has no laws prohibiting the government from doing so, and recent government suggestions that it could partner with telecommunications providers on monitoring programs indicate that it could also restrict content through similar partnership agreements (see C6).

Instances of content removal via unofficial directive are public and cannot be appealed.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 3.003 4.004

Internet users and commentators are generally open to discussing topics of a controversial nature. However, arrests of individuals for posts on social media concerning high profile individuals increasingly add to a climate of intimidation that prompts a degree of self-censorship, particularly among media professionals and social media users.1 In April 2021, the International Press Institute condemned recent detentions of journalists, claiming that they “threaten[ed] to create a climate of fear” in Malawi.2

Online journalists usually also exhibit caution when handling news associated with ethnic, racial, or religious minorities.

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

Online news is subject to government manipulation via government directives to media organizations and individual journalists. Discussions with journalists reveal that their articles are sometimes not published online or in print because their editors received directives from officials to refrain from publishing about certain topics (see B2). Newspaper journalists have indicated that they have received queries from politicians in both opposition and ruling parties demanding to have positive news articles and reports concerning them prioritized.1 Previously, politicians have also verbally threated and abused journalists for their journalistic work (see C7).2

In the aftermath of the May 2019 tripartite elections, progovernment and ruling party groups manipulated images of newspaper front pages to suit their interests, then circulated them online, misleading the public for political aims.3 (News organizations in Malawi routinely post pictures of the front and back pages of newspapers on social media as a way of advertising.) This trend has continued after the disputed elections.4

The 1967 Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act and the 1947 Printed Publications Act both restrict the media from reporting on the president.5 Section 60 of the Penal Code criminalizes publishing and disseminating false information (see C2).6

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 1.001 3.003

The high cost of registering a domain is an obstacle to publishing locally produced content, while a complicated online payment system limits content hosted on foreign domains. The SDNP administers the .mw domain on behalf of the Malawian government.1 As of May 2022, the cost of registering a new .mw domain is $40, with a $40 annual fee for the renewal of the domain.2

Malawians also face limitations when trying to access foreign domains because of the country’s limited options for online payments. The online payment system is complicated, requiring users to have a foreign currency account, MasterCard, or Visa card in order to complete a transaction; the majority of Malawians do not have such accounts.3 Despite efforts by TNM to introduce more accessible MasterCard services, complications related to online payment systems persist.4 Furthermore, the rate of online advertising is low because of a limited understanding of the internet among businesses, which are hesitant to advertise with independent media outlets. It is also difficult for online publications to attract large amounts of advertising because of high internet costs, which makes it accessible by few, often urban-based Malawians (see A1 and A2).

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 2.002 4.004

Even though the online landscape in Malawi is generally open and relatively free, the space does not reflect a wide diversity of viewpoints, primarily due to the low level of internet use (see A1 and A2). In addition, economic conditions make it difficult for local journalists and media groups to launch online outlets, and the few local publications available online are also limited in their coverage because of a lack of editorial staff.

The dominant local news organizations posting original content are traditional media outlets that have also established online platforms. Many of the discussions on online platforms are in English, which is the official language of the country but is spoken by only a minority of the population.1

Malawi’s information space has suffered some problems with reliability. Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 elections, and political figures spread online in recent years.2

Malawi’s blogosphere has stagnated, matched by a shift to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp groups, where Malawians engage in political discussions and express themselves freely. Prominent bloggers tend to be employed as full-time journalists; they often publish content on their blogs that they know their media employers are unlikely to publish because of editorial pressure or concerns about reprisals from criticized individuals or bodies.3 Some cultural topics remain taboo (see B4).

Foreign news and other websites are readily available and contribute to the diversity of content that Malawians have access to—though not much of what is published by these websites addresses local issues.

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 5.005 6.006

Online mobilization tools are available to users in Malawi, and digital activism for political or social causes occurs occasionally. For example, Malawians mobilized on social media to protest high internet data prices using the #DataMustFall hashtag starting in July 2020 (see A2).1

Messaging apps such as WhatsApp and social media platforms like Twitter are regularly used to organize campaigns and demonstrations, garner political support, and conduct opinion polls. In the lead-up to the 2019 tripartite elections, news organizations and outlets such as the Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and the Times Group used livestreams on Facebook to cover events such as political rallies, the presentation of presidential nomination papers, and presidential debates. Twitter Spaces and similar new platforms are also increasingly being used to discuss political and social issues in the country.

In late 2018, Malawians successfully used an online petition to force the government to backtrack on its decision to erect a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the country’s commercial capital, Blantyre.2

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 3.003 6.006

Malawi has strong constitutional guarantees for freedoms of the press and expression, and the constitution is the supreme law of the land—meaning that any law that contradicts it should be invalidated. However, there are a number of laws that restrict freedom of expression in practice (see C2).

While judicial appointment processes lack transparency, the judiciary is generally regarded as independent.1 The Constitutional Court’s annulment of the controversial May 2019 presidential election in February 2020 strengthened the perception of judicial independence.2

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

Several provisions of Malawi’s legal framework assign criminal penalties to online speech.

Libel is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment if prosecuted as a criminal charge, although most libel cases are processed as civil offenses or settled out of court. Section 60 of the Penal Code penalises “publication of false news likely to cause fear and alarm to the public,” which has been used to prosecute people for online activities (see C3). The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter has urged the government to remove this provision from the statutes, as it hinders freedom of expression.1

In an effort to provide a regulatory framework for ICTs and address cybercrime, in July 2016 the parliament passed the controversial Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act; the law came into force in June 2017.2 Article 24 allows for restrictions on online public communications deemed necessary to “protect public order and national security.”3 The same article would also “facilitate technical restriction to conditional access to online communication,” another unclear provision that could be interpreted to enable network shutdowns or blocks of social media platforms.4 Article 87 penalizes “offensive” electronic communication that disturbs the privacy rights of any person with fines or a prison sentence of up to a year, a provision that public officials could exploit to punish critical speech by online journalists or internet users.5 Article 52 of the law also places vague restrictions on encryption (see C4).

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 3.003 6.006

Internet users continue to be penalized for online activities in Malawi.

In January 2022, police arrested political activist Joshua Chisa Mbele after he shared a list of government officials who allegedly had offshore bank accounts on Facebook; before he was arrested, Mbele deleted the post claiming that he had fallen for misinformation.1 Mbele was charged with criminal libel under the Penal Code and publication of offensive communication under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act. He was later released on bail.2

In April 2022, local police detained freelance journalist Watipaso Mzungu and questioned him for two hours over a story in which he quoted a local organization that criticized the president.3

In March 2022, local police in Lilongwe arrested a man for posting on Facebook that a member of parliament siphoned maize meant for his constituency.4 The man was charged with cyberstalking under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act before being released by request of the member of parliament he had accused.5

In June 2021, Ignatius Kamwanje was sentenced to either 18 months imprisonment or a fine of 200,000 kwacha ($193) after pleading guilty to a spamming charge under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act; he chose to pay the fine.6 Kamwanje was arrested in April 2021 for a Facebook post in which he alleged that money was being stolen from customers at the National Bank of Malawi, one of the largest banks in the country. Bank employees filed a complaint with police, contesting the allegation.7

In May 2021, Irene Chisulo Majiga was arrested for publishing a voice note on WhatsApp alleging that a person detained on rape charges was released under questionable circumstances. Majiga was charged under Section 60 of the penal code and pled guilty; she was sentenced to a fine of 50,000 kwacha ($48).8

Police arrested Raymond Siyaya, a journalist from Chanco Community Radio, on allegations of reporting “fake news” on his Facebook page in February 2021. Siyaya alleged that senior security officials had mismanaged COVID-19 relief funds.9 The journalist was charged under section 60 of the Penal Code. He has since been released and verbally told that the charges have been dropped.10

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

The government requires the users to submit official documents to register SIM cards, undermining the ability of Malawians to communicate anonymously via mobile phones. SIM card registration is mandatory in Malawi, as stipulated by the 2016 Communications Act,1 and requires proof of identity, limiting anonymous communication. Accepted documents include national identity cards, driver’s licenses, and passports.2

MACRA announced that SIM cards that were not registered by September 2018 would not be able to access phone services.3 As a way of enforcing the SIM registration, the parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee stated that those who used unregistered SIM cards after the deadline would be fined 5 million kwacha ($4,800) and face five years’ imprisonment.4 This punishment, which section 93 of the 2016 Communications Act proscribes to people who sell SIM cards in violation of the law,5 was not enforced. SIM cards that were not registered by the deadline were deactivated.6

Similarly, article 31(1)(a) of the 2016 Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act mandates that online content providers must display on their website the full name, domicile, telephone number, and email address of the editor. Even though the government does not actively enforce this provision, its presence in legislation undermines citizens’ rights to privacy and anonymity and may encourage self-censorship.7

The Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act requires providers of cryptography services or products to register with MACRA and provide the regulator with “the technical characteristics of the encryption means as well as the source code of the software used.”8 This provision potentially affects services with end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp. Violations can carry up to seven years in prison, a fine of 5 million kwacha ($4,800), or both.9

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 4.004 6.006

Government surveillance of ICT activities is strongly suspected in Malawi, particularly in light of the regulatory authority’s January 2018 implementation of the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS),1 which is known locally as the “spy machine” (see C6). The right to privacy, including protection from interference with private telecommunications, is protected under the constitution.2

Malawi requires all citizens aged 16 and older to register for a national identity card under the National Registration Act of 2010. Registration entails the provision of personal information and biometrics, including fingerprints and a photograph of the individual’s face, which are stored in a centralized database. Following a mass registration exercise in 2017, the national ID card has become the only acceptable form of identity in certain transactions, including accessing state services,3 banking services,4 healthcare services,5 taxpayer registration,6 voter registration,7 and SIM card registration (see C4). Commentators have raised concerns that the mass personal data collection has increased the possibility of state surveillance, especially in the absence of a data protection law.8

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

Service providers do not necessarily monitor the communications of users, but they can be legally compelled by courts to hand over user information. Legal safeguards have failed to prevent such abuse in the past, particularly under past presidents. However, there are no examples of such cases from the coverage period.

In January 2019, the then-minister of information hinted that the government was considering the establishment of programs to monitor people who abuse social media and was engaged with one of the country’s major telecommunications providers, TNM, to that end.1 No clear program has emerged from the consultations. In June 2019, the minister warned those who post “fake news” and obscene posts online that the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Law would “catch up with them;”2 since then, several individuals have been charged under the law (see C3).

In January 2018, MACRA implanted the CIRMS system,3 known locally as the “spy machine” (see C5). MACRA described the system as a tool for monitoring the performance of mobile phone companies and improving the quality of service. However, news reports said that the system would also allow MACRA—without judicial oversight—to obtain data from telephone operators, including the time, duration, and location of calls; short-message service (SMS) messages sent and received; the type of handset used; and other subscriber details.4 However, there have been no reported cases indicating that MACRA has ever implemented or attempted to implement any of these types of information requests.

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 4.004 5.005

Periodic assaults, extralegal detentions, and harassment of opposition activists, bloggers, or ordinary internet users have contributed to a climate of intimidation, particularly for media professionals.1

In April 2022, Gregory Gondwe, the chief executive of the Platform for Investigative Journalism, was interrogated by the police who demanded he reveal his sources for a story that exposed high-level corruption within the government (see C8). During the investigation, the police confiscated Gondwe’s phone and computer.2

In September 2019, Golden Matonga, a blogger and NPL journalist, and Gladys Nthenda, a reporter with Kulinji.com, were physically attacked while covering a public demonstration against the electoral commission’s role in mismanagement of the May 2019 elections.3

There have been numerous reports of threats against political commentators and journalists who are critical of the government and the ruling party.4 These tend to come through phone calls and text messages and are not usually prosecuted.

Physical assaults of journalists—whose work in the print media is often cross-posted to online platforms, livestreamed, or tweeted—take place occasionally. In March 2019, a ZBS journalist, John Paul Kayuni, was reportedly assaulted by police officers for photographing a protest.5 In February 2019, journalist George Banda was assaulted by UTM party supporters, who allegedly accused him of being a partisan and not a journalist.6 Attacks against journalists are sometimes perpetrated by state security forces, who act with impunity.

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 1 because a prominent investigative journalism website was hacked shortly after the outlet’s chief executive was interrogated by police.

Technical attacks against independent news websites or activists are uncommon in Malawi, however one such attack was reported during the coverage period.

In April 2022, the Platform for Investigative Journalism reported that its website had been hacked and compromised. Prior to the attack, the online investigative news site had published a series of stories exposing high profile corruption cases in Malawi. Also, shortly before the hacking, local police had interrogated and seized the phone and computer of the platform’s chief executive, Gregory Gondwe (see C3). MISA Malawi claimed that the hacking was intentional and was committed by state authorities.1

On Malawi

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    66 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    60 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    No
  • Users Arrested

    Yes