High Court judge Kenyatta Nyirenda has issued a stay order stopping the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court from continuing with criminal proceedings against three civil society leaders arrested in March after they had threatened to shut down State residences.
The judge says the High Court will have to determine first whether the arrest of the three—Gift Trapence, Timothy Mtambo and McDonald Sembereka—was lawful or not.
The three, who at the time were all leaders of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), had planned to hold protests aimed at shutting down State residences in a bid to force President Peter Mutharika to assent to Electoral Reforms Bills and fire then Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah.
Mtambo has since quit HRDC to form a political pressure group while Ansah has resigned.
The order, dated May 29, also indicates that the three will no longer be required to report for bail weekly at National Police Headquarters as ordered by the lower court.
It reads: “On the hearing of the Respondent’s application to discharge permission to commence judicial review proceedings granted to the applicants on 9th March 2020, and on the applicants’ application for interim relief, it is hereby ordered and directed that the criminal proceedings against the applicants before the Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court sitting at Lilongwe (registered as Criminal Case No. 320 of 2020), be and are hereby stayed until the determination of this court on the applications heard today or until a further direction of this Court.”
One of the lawyers for the three, Khwima Mchizi, in an interview yesterday said they still maintain that the arrests were political, further querying why they were moved from Lilongwe to Blantyre.
The three were jointly charged with four counts centred on mobilising people to break the law, contrary to Section 124 (1)(b) of the Penal Code to which they have all pleaded not guilty.
In the first count, they are accused of saying words that indicated to the public that it was desirable for them to contravene Section 103 of the Police Act by mobilising people to shut down Sanjika Palace.
The second, third and fourth counts are about contravening Section 103 of the Police Act by mobilising people to shut down Kamuzu Palace, Mzuzu and Chikoko-Bay State lodges.
Sembereka and Trapence were arrested March 8, a few hours after President Peter Mutharika threatened to deal with HRDC leaders if they went ahead organising demonstrations to shut down State residences on March 25 2020. Mtambo handed himself to police on March 10.