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Malawi suspends broadcast call-in shows over election unrest

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi’s government on Friday ordered all call-in shows to be suspended while accusing some broadcasters of “careless and unethical coverage” of unrest after last month’s disputed election. Journalism advocates quickly called the directive “a very serious violation of media freedom.”

The communications regulator’s statement was issued after days of confrontations between police and opposition supporters who allege irregularities in the election narrowly won by President Peter Mutharika.

The United States ambassador on Thursday was caught up in tear gas fired by police against protesters while she met with opposition leader and election runner-up Lazarus Chakwera. The U.S. has called for restraint.

Mutharika in a national address Thursday night accused Chakwera and his Malawi Congress Party of trying to cause chaos. Both Chakwera and third-place finisher Saulos Chilima have petitioned the High Court to nullify the results of the peaceful election.

Friday’s government statement warned broadcasters that call-in shows have the potential to “incite the masses into violence” in the southern African nation.

Media advocacy organization MISA Malawi demanded an immediate reversal of the order, calling it a serious violation of the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

“It is surprising and worrying that the regulator has decided to unlawfully punish all broadcasters, their listeners and the general public with an unjustified suspension of all phone-in programs,” the group said in a statement.

The Malawi Police Service said 18 people were arrested in the capital, Lilongwe, on Thursday on charges including malicious damage and proposing violence but called the current situation in the country “very calm.” It added: “Rest assured that the police are containing all acts of political violence.”

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