Government says it is ‘disturbed and dismayed’ by High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda’s decision to issue a court order that led to the release of four Chinese nationals who had been quarantined on arrival at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) last Tuesday.
In a statement issued yesterday, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani said government finds Judge Nyirenda’s order not only disturbing but also lacking patriotism.
The minister adds that by issuing the order, the judge had undermined local and global efforts to protect people’s lives from the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) disease which has killed thousands globally.
Said Botomani: “At a time different players are taking active roles to prevent importation of Covid-19 into Malawi, it is disappointing that Judge Nyirenda is pulling in the opposite direction. The court order has potential to make Malawi a weak link in global efforts to fight Covid-19.”
He said he feared that the judge’s action may have already put millions of Malawians at potentially high risk of contracting the virus.
He added: “We find it unfortunate that of all players, it should be the Judiciary that chooses to put the lives of millions at a potential risk, especially at a time players in different sectors have complied with Government’s guidance in Covid-19 prevention.”
In an interview last evening, the minister reiterated that government was at discomfort with Nyirenda’s action, adding that it was pleasing to note that the Immigration Department had acted diligently to protect Malawians from potential importation of Covid-19 by putting the four Chinese nationals on quarantine.
Going forward, Botomani said government has encouraged the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services to apply for the vacation of the injunction for the sake of fighting Covid-19.
Judiciary spokesperson Agnes Patemba yesterday declined to comment on the matter, saying she had not seen the statement by government rebuking Nyirenda’s conduct.
Nyirenda granted the injunction without hearing from the director general of Immigration and Attorney General, as first and second respondents respectively, advising them that should they want to have the injunction varied or discharged, local lawyers for the Chinese nationals must be notified 48 hours beforehand.
The judge stated the injunction was valid up to March 26 2020, the same day an inter partes hearing will be held on the case.
Department of Immigration spokesperson at KIA, Martin Gongolo, told The Nation on Friday that the department wanted to send back the 14, but 10 of them had return tickets.
He said the 14 were put in isolation at the airport as there were no flights to take them back to China.
“We put the 14 in isolation here at KIA. We sent back to China the 10 on Wednesday as they had their return tickets and we expected the four to sort out their ticket issues,” he said.
The four were, therefore, quarantined pending the processing of their return air tickets.
However, as the four were quarantined, The Nation later learnt that on Thursday they obtained an injunction through Lilongwe-based lawyers, Wilkinson & Associates, which was granted by Justice Nyirenda.
The order also forced the Department of Immigration to remove the four, Lin Xiaoxiao, Liu Zhigin, Wang Xia and Tian Hongze, from quarantine at KIA, effectively restraining the Immigration from sending back the four to China, warning that should the order be disobeyed, they [immigration officials]
risked being imprisoned or have their assets seized.
The four were released even before being tested for coronavirus and before the recommended 14-day quarantine period had elapsed.
As of yesterday, Covid-19 has killed nearly 13 000 people globally, with over 304 500 people being diagnosed with the infection while nearly 92 000 have recovered, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Malawi has not yet registered a case of the virus.