He has spent seven years in Prison. But he has never been sentenced by a competent court of law. Neither has he been convicted.
Wilson Kambonje, 45, is a murder suspect at Mzuzu Prison who, since February 15 2010, has been serving jail without trial.
“I think I have been doomed to death,” he said in an interview when we visited him on Monday.
Kambonje comes from Thoko Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkhokwe in Machinga. He was a tenant at Bolero in Rumphi when he is alleged to have committed the crime.
He recalls to have stabbed an individual in self-defense during a fight that erupted at a drinking joint over a woman.
“All of my life, I have never committed any crime. This was the first one. I did it because I was defending myself from a mob that attacked me for dating a woman they wanted,” he explains.
Kambonje was arrested by the police at Bolero. He was then sent to Rumphi Police Station where he spent 10 days before being remanded at Mzuzu Prison.
“The case has never gone to court,” he says, adding: “I am surprised why they are keeping me here when I have not been found guilty.”
Kambonje says he wants justice to prevail. He also feels his human rights have been violated.
“All I want is to go through trial for justice. If not, I should be transferred to my home district where my relatives can visit me without problems,” says the married father of two.
He says since imprisonment he has not been visited by relatives.
“They can’t manage to travel all the way to Mzuzu without my support. I was the breadwinner for the family,” he says.
Northern Region Malawi Prison Service (MPS) spokesperson Austin Mwasangwale confirmed Kambonje’s narrative.
Mwasangwale says the facility has several other inmates in a similar predicament, including the longest murder remandee Zimema Nyoni from Mzimba.
“The interesting part about Nyoni is that he was granted bail by the High Court in Mzuzu in 2008, but his family refused to be surety on account that he is suspected to have murdered a relative,” he says.
Mzuzu Prison has 827 inmates. Out of these, 84 are on remand, with 39 of them suspected of murder.
MPS national spokesperson Smart Maliro asked for more time to give national statistics.
But Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) executive director Victor Chagunyuka Mhango says his organisation found that the country has over 1 000 homicide remandees in various prisons.
“He [Kambonje] is not the only one. There are so many of them in such a situation. Some of them have stayed for over 13 years waiting for their time to go to court.
“There are some who were tried by the High Court six years ago and are still waiting for judgement,” he says.
Mhango says Kambonje’s case is an example of a justice system that favours the rich.
He says people that cannot afford legal representation stay long in prison unlike those that can afford one.
Even after acquittal, he says such type of people do not seek compensation because they can’t afford a lawyer.
“In other words, our criminal justice system is not responsive to issues of the poor. It is responsive to the rich,” he says.
Worse still, Mhango says Kambonje is vulnerable because he is in a distant city from his home district.
“Being a prisoner you are vulnerable because you can’t get what you want. But for him, it is worse because people from home can’t visit him; and in the event that prisons don’t have food, he will stay hungry,” he says.
“But this person is still on remand. In other words, he is supposed to be treated as an innocent person until he is proven guilty,” he adds.
Mhango says the only solution for Kambonje is to get legal representation.
“The only lawyers who can represent him for free are legal aid lawyers. The problem with legal aid lawyers is that they are few with minimal resources,” he says.
Mzuzu-based Knowledge of the Laws of the Land (Knoll) executive director Christon Ghambi says such cases can be minimised if inmates had knowledge of the laws.
“Knowledge gap on the country’s laws among inmates is contributing to violations of human rights. Some of the inmates are not aware that they can appeal for cases or apply for bail. As such, they end up rotting in jail,” he says.
According to him, any person can apply for bail without necessarily engaging lawyers. He cites Section 118 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code which can be used by anyone to apply for bail.
On the other hand, Maliro says MPS is aware of the state of affairs in prisons. He, however, says knowledge transfer to the inmates is a shared responsibility as it cuts across a number of stakeholders.
“It is pleasing that the MPS has taken a huge step towards addressing the situation. The Service has so far trained own paralegals both at certificate and diploma levels totaling to 19.
“Most of these paralegals have already been sent to respective stations since two years ago and results coming from these stations are very encouraging.
“As for Mzuzu, a paralegal officer has already been identified and will be travelling there in due course.
“But the concerns [that suspects stay long in prison without trial] can be treated by other stakeholders not necessarily by prisons,” he says.