The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Malawi (MISA-Malawi), a watchdog group, has accused the Malawi Police Service of hacking a website for the Platform for Investigative Journalism. The accusation comes after the media organization said Thursday that its website was compromised. Police have denied the allegation, saying the group lacks evidence.
The website hacking came more than a week after police arrested the managing director for the Platform for Investigative Journalism, Gregory Gondwe. They wanted to find out where and how he obtained documents he used in a story about corruption involving government authorities.
Police could not get Gondwe to reveal the information; however, they did confiscate a mobile phone and laptop belonging to him and forced him to reveal passwords.
Gondwe was unconditionally released four hours later due to international pressure, largely from the U.S. and British embassies in Malawi. Police returned his equipment a day later.
In a statement, the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Malawi (MISA-Malawi), a watchdog organization, says it believes the hacking was intentional and cannot rule out the involvement of state agents, considering the circumstances.
Teresa Ndanga, the chairperson for MISA-Malawi, spoke to VOA via a messaging application.
“This hacking incident happened a few days after the managing director of the Platform was arrested, his gadgets seized and was forced to hand over his passwords. So, they essentially had access to everything that Gregory has – his private life, his work life and everything else. And that coincidence in itself is conviction enough on our part to conclude or to suspect that police are involved,” she said.
Ndanga says it is concerning that police officers who must be in the forefront in combating cybersecurity crimes have been linked to actions that qualify them as prime suspects.
Hacking is a crime in Malawi under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016. Offenders face fines and seven years’ imprisonment.
MISA-Malawi has therefore asked the government to investigate and prosecute anyone suspected in this incident.
Harry Namwaza, deputy spokesperson for the Malawi Police Service, told VOA via a messaging app that MISA-Malawi’s allegation lacks evidence.
“Actually as police, you actually know that we have a mandate to summon any person we feel that will be important in our inquiries and the investigation was legally binding. So, this is why we are saying basing the accusation on that, is not substantial in terms of evidence,” he said.
Namwaza said the investigation of Gondwe is still ongoing.
“Interrogating him was one of the stages of our investigations we are conducting because he is one of the people we know that can help in the investigations. But it has nothing to do with the hacking.”
Namwaza says police have yet to start investigating the hacking incident because they have not received a complaint from the Platform for Investigative Journalism.
Gregory Gondwe says his group is still assessing what happened.
“We haven’t complained because we are looking at what has been happening,” he said. “The police, to us, are the main suspects because of what has led to the hacking. The first was the arrest, the confiscation of the IT gadgets, and the hacking of our website. How do you expect me to go to the same police, and lodge a complaint?”
Gondwe says, so far, his media organization has engaged independent IT experts to help track down the hackers.
Security analyst Sheriff Kaisi says police should work with other organizations like the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority to assist in tracking and arresting the hackers if it wants to come out in the clear.