Last November, a group of people, including Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, were arrested and accused of plotting to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika. Six of those arrested have since sued the government for false imprisonment; their lawyer, Fahad Assani, said they are seeking compensation. Some observers believe the group was arrested in order to disrupt demonstrations against the visit of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Lisa Kadango, the wife of an alleged plotter, was arrested because her husband could not be found when police forces sought him out. Some human rights activists have criticized the police for this action. The incident rekindled bitter memories of collective punishment employed by the dictatorial regime of Kamuzu Banda.
Assani said Kadango has sued because she says she was used as a pawn to force her husband to turn himself into the police and that the police damaged household property in their pursuit. According to Assani, Kadango also alleged that police officers undressed her during interrogation.
Fahad Assani spoke with VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey about his client’s case against the government.
“Yes indeed I received instructions about a month and half ago from the six people who were arrested by government on allegation that, they were suspect in the treason case in which the vice president is involved. And they were arrested and kept in custody for about…two days [and] others three days, others four days and later on [some were] released without any charge. And that has actually necessitated them to instruct me to sue government for defamation as well as false imprisonment,” he said.
Assani said there is a possibility of an out of court settlement on the condition that the government admits it made a mistake.
“Settlement out of court will only come if government admits liability. If government does not admit liability, this matter will be contested in the court. So that the courts, if they find in their favor, would have to access damages for the mistreatment, which they received at the hands of the police,” he noted.
Assani outlined their course of action should the government refuse their suggestions.
“A former summons would be drawn up and filed in the high court of Malawi. And government would have to defend it to the end and the trial would then be conducted in the open court,” he said.
Assani explained the latest development of the treason case, which involves Vice President Cassim Chilumpha.
“As of now, what has happened is the Vice President put up a challenge in terms of judicial review, in which, he is challenging the legality of the entire process that led to his arrest….At the same time, the Vice President is making that challenge on the basis that he is immune to prosecution just like the President because the Vice President can only be taken to court upon him being convicted on an impeachment and then have him arrested when the immunity is lost. So we are still waiting for the constitutional court to come out with a decision,” Assani said.
“I will dare to say that, our government has behaved very, very badly in terms of the need and requirement under the constitution for them to comply with the court’s orders in this matter. Government for some reason, they behave as if there is novice president of the country. You can imagine, they recently produced what is called the secret telephone list directory in which they have said that the office of the vice president is vacant. That is clearly a gross violation of the court order. And we’ve already informed government, that unless they complied with court orders, we will have no option but to sue for contempt,” he continued.
The treason trial against Chilumpha is awaiting a Constitutional Court ruling on an application by defense lawyers that charges against Chilumpha be dropped on the grounds that the Constitution accords the Vice President, immunity from prosecution while in office.
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