Reporters Without Borders “is shocked by the appalling climate for journalists in Malawi which the president’s office and the government are currently fostering,” secretary general Olivier Basille wrote in an open letter.
Mutharika’s office earlier this month warned editors, reporters and activists against making statements that insult the president — an offence punishable by up to two years in jail or a 1,000-pound ($1,600) fine.
“It is normal that journalists sometimes ask annoying questions. They do it to get a debate going. This should not be confused with a desire to destabilise the government,” said Basille.
“We call for an end to the threats against journalists, whether by officials or individuals, and for the implementation of policies that ensure the safety of media personnel and respect for their work.”
The group said the local head of the Media Institute of Southern Africa had received threats from an unknown source after responding to the presidency’s statement.
Mutharika is facing calls to resign, with political tensions erupting last year into rioting in which police shot 19 people dead.
Malawi fell 67 places in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index published in January, from 79th in 2010 to 146th.