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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 16:24 GMT
Malawi 'vampire journalist' freed
Malawi villagers
Famine-hit areas have been rife with vampire rumours
A Malawian magistrate has thrown out charges of broadcasting false news against a journalist who interviewed a man who said he had been attacked by a vampire.

Stories of vampires sucking people's blood have become commonplace in recent months in the country's southern provinces.

I am not bitter with anyone, in fact my sojourn in jail has reinforced my resolve to unearth issues authorities would otherwise preferred buried

Maganizo Mazeze
President Bakili Muluzi has called for anyone spreading such rumours to be arrested.

But Blantyre's Chief Resident Magistrate Silvester Kalembera accused the police of flouting the country's laws by arresting journalist Maganizo Mazeze without a warrant of arrest.

The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says the court room was packed with supporters of Mr Mazeze, a popular DJ.

'No basis'

On Saturday Maganizo Mazeze, interviewed a man from the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo.

Map of Malawi showing areas affected by vampire rumours
The interview was broadcast on MIJ 90.3 FM in Blantyre, the country's commercial capital.

Following his release, Mr Mazeze said he remained determined to continue investigative reporting.

"I am not bitter with anyone, in fact my sojourn in jail has reinforced my resolve to unearth issues authorities would otherwise preferred buried," he said.

The magistrate said that Mr Mazeze had not been charged with a serious offence but a misdemeanour and so the police should have obtained a warrant before arresting him.

"It was a story that deserved airing because it was traceable to real human beings," said James Ng'ombe, executive director of the Malawi Institute of Journalism, which runs that station.

But the police said that there was no basis in fact for the vampire claims sweeping the country.

"No one has come forward with evidence, be it medical, physical or otherwise," said police spokesman George Chikowi.

Attacks

There have been a number of attacks connected with the vampire rumours in recent weeks.

Strangers are becoming victims of vigilantes as villagers are wary of anyone who is not known in their area.

One man was stoned to death after being suspected of working with the vampires.

In Thyolo, villagers attacked three Roman Catholic priests who were strangers to the area.

Ten days ago, the governor of Blantyre Eric Chiwaya was stoned by a crowd which accused him of colluding with vampires to collect human blood in return for international food aid.

The government says the opposition are using the rumours to try and discredit the ruling United Democratic Front.

See also:

23 Dec 02 | Africa
26 Nov 02 | Health
22 Oct 02 | Africa
22 Aug 02 | Africa
29 Nov 02 | Country profiles
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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