A Malawian high court judge has released vice president Cassim Chilumpha and his alleged co-conspirators on bail. They were arrested last week on charges of plotting to assassinate president Bingu Wa Mutharika and overthrow his government. Meanwhile judge Charles Mkandawire ordered that Chilumpha be confined to his official residence in Blantyre until the conclusion of the treason trial.
Ralph Kasambara is Malawi’s attorney general. In a telephone interview with English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey, Kasambara reacted with surprise the release of the vice president. “The prosecution is a little bit shocked by the decision by the court. In the sense that the decision by the court was a radical departure from the previous decisions of the high court and the Supreme Court. The guiding principle here has always been that in capital offences like this one talk of treason murder, which attracts mandatory death sentence. Courts are very slow to release the accused person on bail pending trial.”
Reacting to assertions by the defense team that it has not received any evidence the government claims to have on the vice president, Kasambara said, “We must understand the procedure that applies in Malawi court and indeed that was not the argument that was put in court. Doctor Chilumpha and two other persons were only arrested about two weeks ago.” He added that the prosecution has twenty-one days to present the evidence to the defense team.
Meanwhile shortly after the judge’s pronouncement of bail for the vice president and his alleged co-conspirators, his supports erupted into joy and sang his praise while chanting anti Muthrika songs. Vice president Chilumpha then told sources that government was persecuting him because he refused to join Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Fahad Assani is Chilumpha’s lead attorney. Talking to reporter Peter Clottey about the mood of the vice President after the judges pronouncement Assani said, “The vice president feels quite elated and excited that as of now he has regained his liberty through the court. So the judge has actually removed each and every obstacle government was putting in, in order to justify their hanging on to the vice president in custody.”
Reacting to attorney general Kasambara’s statement that the vice president does not enjoy immunity under Malawi’s constitution, Assani said, "our position is that, the vice president enjoys immunity. There is a section that talks about immunity under our constitution specifically mentioning the president. But in Malawi one thing you have to know is that the vice president is elected concurrently with the president. And both the president and the vice president can only be removed through impeachment in the parliament even if he is convicted.”