The Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court has granted bail to Cecilia Kumpukwe, a sister to the former president Joyce Banda and her accomplices Stella Assani and Yesaya Mkawala.
The trio was arrested in connection to a resignation letter purportedly written by Vice President Saulos Chilima.
The State has charged the three with two counts of making a false document contrary to Section 353 of the Penal Code and publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm among members of the Republic of Malawi, which is in contravention of Section 60 (1) of the Penal Code.
There was drama when the accused were brought to court at around 10 am as police and some People’s Party (PP) officials tussled and exchanged bitter words before hearing resumed.
Apparently, the law enforcers were annoyed by PP supporters who thronged a police vehicle carrying the suspects.
They sang and danced while singing sarcastic songs, accusing the police of being a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tool for harassing and silencing the opposition.
“But we wish to warn you! We’re watching. You will face the music if the regime changes in 2019,” threatened one PP supporter.
And when senior resident magistrate (SRM) Chisomo Msokera took his seat, he deferred plea taking to May 29 2017, paving way to State prosecutors Mwabi Kaluba and Nepier Chafikana to apply for an extension to the remand for the accused.
Kaluba and Chafikana said although that none of the suspects posed a fright-risk, there was potential that they could interfere with some of the witnesses the State intends to interview.
But defence lawyers Bright Theu, Nicely Msowoya and Chimwemwe Sikwese dismissed the assertions, arguing the State lacked seriousness on the matter by failing to finalise investigations while the accused were in custody.
And in granting bail, Msokera faulted the State for failing to provide evidence that the suspects could interfere with witnesses if released on bail.
He noted that the State merely advanced general fear when making its application.
“The submissions of the State are neither sufficient nor compelling [to move the court to grant its application]. This court therefore grants bail to the accused persons with conditions attached,” he said.
The magistrate ordered the three to produce K400 000 cash bond each, produce two sureties bonded at K150 000 non-cash, and report to National Police Headquarters every Tuesday, among others.
However, Theu pleaded with the court to vary the reporting condition. He said it would not be plausible for Kumpukwe, who is second accused in the matter, and the first accused Assani to be reporting to the National Police Headquarters at Area 30 in Lilongwe from Blantyre.
The lawyer suggested that the two should instead be reporting to Regional Police Headquarters in Blantyre.
Msokera agreed and granted the prayer.
Kumpukwe and Assani were arrested on different days at their houses in Chigumula and Kameza in Blantyre respectively.
On the other hand, Mkwala was arrested in Lilongwe.
A police raid at Kumpukwe and Assani’s houses led to confiscation of computers and mobile phones purportedly used in authoring the said document.
Kumpukwe has been outside the country since July 2014. Former President Joyce Banda has described the arrest as a political witch-hunt aimed at harassing her and her family.
The matter has since been adjourned to May 29 2017 when the suspects are expected to take plea.