Central Region Police acting commissioner Evarista Chisale and 12 other officers were yesterday formally charged with murder following the death of Buleya Lule who mysteriously died in a cell while in custody at Lilongwe Police station.
Principal resident magistrate Viva Nyimba laid the foundation on hearing the case yesterday. He read the murder charge sheet against them and thereafter committed the case to the High Court for full trial and for their possible application of bail.
The 13, who were not handcuffed on their way to court in two police vehicles, told the court that they understood the charges levelled against them. But their lawyers asked the court to remand the accused at the police station instead of Maula Prison.
Lawyer for Chisale and others, Enock Chibwana, said he feared that if the accused are remanded at Maula Prison, they would be attacked by other prisoners since they were responsible for investigating their cases.
He argued: “My worship all these accused are senior police officers who have worked for many years. They should continue being kept at the police station and not Maula Prison. If they can be remanded at the prison, prisoners may harm them.
“When police officers face this scenario, prisoners take vengeance on them. It is worrying that their safety could be jeorpadised.”
But chief State advocate Jean Piriminta objected to the application, arguing it lacked legal basis. She said many police officers have been remanded but there has never been an application in court that a police officer should be given preferential treatment for fear that they could face vengeance in remand.
Nyimba concurred with Piriminta in his determination, which in part also hinted that should the 13 face any threat while in prison, authorities at Maula will look into the issue and provide the necessary measures to ensure their safety.
He further highlighted that the 13 will still enjoy their right to good food, to be visited, consult their lawyers and be given due care while on remand at the prison.
Chisale, who is former president Peter Mutharika’s head of security Norman Chisale’s wife, is the 13th accused regarding the death of Lule, who was arrested in connection with the missing of a boy with albinism Goodson Makanjira, 14, in Dedza.
The other accused are Paul Chipole, 48, Ikraim Malaya, 40, Richard Kalawire, 37, Innocent Wanda, 37, Steve Mashonga, 34, Maxwell Mbidzi, 33, Abel Maseya, 36, Chifundo Chiwambo and Derrick Mitswati, both 33.
The list also includes long-serving officers Warren Chavinda, 51, Ronnex Kapesa, 53, and Robert Tchaka, 54.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) recommended in its report that police should investigate circumstances that led to the death of Lule and the report indicated that he died naturally in the cell.
However, an independent autopsy by pathologist Charles Dzamalala revealed that Lule was electrocuted, a term which means that the suspect was killed by passing electricity in his body.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions released a file days after a change in the country’s leadership. The 13 were arrested last Friday. They have since spent their fourth night in a cell pending to appear in the High Court.