A Malawian national (name withheld), detained in a South Sudan prison for over a year now on allegations of fraud, claims he is being tortured by that country’s security agency.
International human rights groups have since said the situation requires immediate intervention from both the Malawi government and that of South Sudan.
Amnesty International (AI) has since written the two governments, demanding a probe into allegations of torture and to ensure that the suspect is accorded speedy trial as his long detention amounts to human rights violation.
The Malawian was arrested in October last year in Kigali, Rwanda in transit to Malawi, on allegations that he misappropriated company funds amounting to $730 000 (over K500 million). He denies the charges.
The suspect was working as finance manager for an oil company—Trinity Energy Limited—which has another Malawian, former chief executive officer for National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Robert Mdeza as chief executive officer.
When contacted this week, Mdeza confirmed the arrest, but could not respond to further questions, including allegations of torture, saying the matter was in court.
Both the suspect and his lawyer refused to be named, citing security concerns in South Sudan.
The lawyer alleges that his client is in ill-health due to the torture, which includes beating, starvation and denied access to medical services at the hands of South Sudanese National Security Service (NSS), “to force him admit charges he denies”.
He says it was family that reported the matter to AI.
“Throughout the time the suspect has spent in the custody of the NSS, he has reportedly been subjected to beatings. AI is especially concerned about the role of the NSS, whose use of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees has been well documented by AI and other organisations,” said Vongai Chikwanda, AI southern Africa campaigner.
Both United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-Malawi) and AI say they have engaged both governments to ensure speedy trial for the suspect and that allegations of torture are investigated.
Apart from torture, the international rights groups are also concerned that the suspect has appeared in court more than once without meaningful hearing, usually due to excuses from the State.
One of the suspect’s family members in Malawi said they were worried that government has not responded to their call to intervene in the matter.
A well-placed source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, intervene due to diplomatic complications. said government is failing to
“Government is truly concerned with the allegations of torture and this sends a bad message to the international community, that we do not care. Things are made worse because we have no mission in South Sudan—meaning that the government envoy from Kenya/Tanzania has to go there. But even when this envoy goes—they may not be allowed to see a suspect who is allegedly tortured for political reasons.
“The best way out is to have the family go through international organisations—like the International Committee for Red Cross, which have mandate to inspect prisons,” said the source”
But responding to our questionnaire, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Rejoice Chaponda said it was difficult for government to act on what she called “hearsays”.
“We have advised the family what to do in order to obtain accurate information on this matter and in a manner that does not jeopardise the safety and interest of our citizen who is in detention,” said Chaponda.
But reacting to the Malawi Government position, Chikwanda said the allegations of torture are sufficient for a government to ask another government to independently investigate the allegations.
On October 10 2019, AI wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting the intervention of the South Sudan Government in the case.
On March 13 2019, AI also wrote to South Sudan’s Minister of Justice calling for his intervention to ensure that the suspect is immediately brought to court to determine the legality of his continued detention.
Like Malawi, South Sudan has ignored the call from AI. The UNDP–Malawi office is also waiting for a response from the Sudanese government on the same.
Efforts to engage the government of South Sudan proved futile as their government spokesperson, who is also Minister responsible for Information Michael Makuei Lueth, who we called and talked to last Friday, said he was in a meeting and would call back.