Chief resident magistrate Violet Chipao yesterday pended a bail ruling for three Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders to this afternoon.
The three—chairperson Timothy Mtambo, vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and Central Region chairperson MacDonald Sembereka—were remanded to Maula Prison yesterday as they awaited hearing today.
They have jointly been charged with four counts centred on soliciting another 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, the trio is accused of uttering words that indicated to members of the public that it was desirable for them to contravene Section 103 of the Police Act by mobilising people to shut down State residences.
In the second, third and fourth counts, the three are accused of contravening Section 103 of the Police Act by mobilising people to shut down Kamuzu Palace, Mzuzu State Lodge and Chikoko-Bay.
After the three took plea, lead State prosecutor Nepia Chafikana asked the court to keep the accused in custody to allow the State conclude their investigations and also for the suspects’ safety.
He said: “Since the accused have denied the charges, I can tell that the matter is still under investigations, which we will conclude in five days and we will require another seven days to serve disclosures to the court and then ask that hearing starts 15 days from today.”
But the defence, through lawyer Khwima Mchizi, said most of the reasons given by the State were mere speculation and asked the court to consider that when granting bail.
The lawyer also said by saying that they were still investigating the matter after they already arrested the suspects, police were acting on suspicion.
He referred to a case of Kamwangala versus the Republic in which the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that an arrest of a person is not supposed to precede investigations.
“They needed to arrest the suspects after they had finished their investigations. This ground is, therefore, unfounded and should not be entertained,” said Mchizi.
However, after adjournment, Mtambo complained of foul play, saying the car in which he travelled to court from had some wet substance that was itchy.
“I complained to the officers of this incident, I need to be changed and put in another car. I felt something like water and my hand has been itchy ever since like they have smeared chitedze (velvet bean) and I don’t feel comfortable with this,” he said.
He was later moved to a Land Cruiser that transported Trapence to Maula. The police and his lawyer Mchizi agreed that on arrival at Maula, he would go for a medical checkup to see what the problem was.
Sembereka and Trapence were arrested on Sunday, a few hours after President Peter Mutharika threatened to deal with HRDC for organising demonstrations to shut down State residences on March 25 2020.
Mtambo, who went in hiding after getting wind of a warrant of arrest for the three HRDC leaders, handed himself to police on Tuesday.