Government says it will drop a case in which Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders were arrested in March this year for planning to seal State Residences.
Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe in an e-mail response yesterday confirmed the development, but referred The Nation to lawyers representing HRDC for more details.
When contacted, a lawyer representing HRDC, Khwima Mchizi, said consent was granted by the AG’s office to withdraw the case.
He said: “Now, consent has been reached where the AG is ready to withdraw the criminal charges which will end the judicial proceedings.”
In March this year, police arrested then HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo, who is now Minister of Civic Education and National Unity, and his then vice-chairperson Gift Trapence, who has since taken over HRDC leadership, and its Central Region chairperson Reverend MacDonald Sembereka.
The activists planned a march to State Residences on March 25 to force former president Peter Mutharika to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bills that were passed in Parliament earlier.
According to Mchizi, after their arrest and criminal proceedings in the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court, the trio applied for judicial review in the High Court challenging the legality of the arrests.
Mchizi said in their submissions to the High Court, they argued that the arrests were politically motivated under the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration.
The High Court then stayed the criminal proceedings in the lower court pending the judicial review proceedings before arriving at the consent with the AG’s office following no progress.
When asked for his reaction, Trapence said he will comment on the matter once all the court processes are finalised for the withdrawal of the case.
The HRDC leaders were arrested after Mutharika, at a rally at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre, ordered the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force to use all necessary force to stop the protesters.
Besides forcing the former president to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bills, the HRDC leaders also wanted the then Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah and her commissioners to be fired for being found incompetent by the court.
They were charged with four counts centred on mobilising people to break the law, contrary to Section 124 (1) (b) of the Penal Code.