Malawi’s information minister says the trial of former high ranking government officials accused of treason will begin Wednesday.
Moses Kunkuyu says an independent inquiry committee recommended going ahead with the prosecutions after looking into circumstances following the death of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika.
“Since the committee report was a public document, the law enforcement agencies detected some criminality committed by some individuals, so they acted on that, also coupled with the investigations by the police, which are still ongoing, and effected some arrests,” said Kunkuyu.
Mutharika died of a heart attack on April 5, 2012. According to Malawi’s constitution, the vice president is to be sworn in following the death of a sitting president.
The government contends that the accused officials undermined the constitution by plotting to prevent then-Vice President Joyce Banda from being installed as president following Mutharika’s death.
The accused include former foreign minister Peter Mutharika, who is also the brother of the deceased president, legislator Patricia Kaliati, former information minister Duncan Mwapasa, former commander of the presidential guard, Goodall Gondwe, former minister of Economy and Planning Bright Msaka, the former chief secretary to the government, and Nicholas Dausi, spokesman for the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) agrees with the government’s stance that the accused should be tried on treason charges.
Gift Mwakhwawa, a leading member of the Law Society, said the constitution was violated following the death of Mutharika.
“The Malawi Law Society position has not changed. It remains the same that offense akin to treason were committed around that time,” said Mwakhwawa, who was chairman of the MLS when the accused were charged with plotting to undermine the constitution.
But supporters of the defendants say they are being politically persecuted over ideological differences with the government.
“The reasons for their arrest have been given in a court of law and none of the reasons sounds political in anyway, because the people that were arrested, not all of them are politicians or take part in politics,” Kunkuyu said. “So to call this a political arrest is really unfounded. And the charges that have been leveled against them in court, none of them mentions anything that can be considered political witch-hunting.”
He says security services have been put on high alert to prevent any violent protests when the trial begins. Kunkuyu warned that supporters of the accused would be arrested and prosecuted if they engage in violent conduct or protests during court proceedings.
He said the country’s judiciary is independent and expressed confidence the accused would receive a fair trial.
“We expect that justice would be administered,” said Kunkuyu.
“If the people are not guilty, they should not be found guilty because of their political affiliation. So, as Malawians we just expect our judicial system [officials] to do their jobs as professionally and as independently as they are,” he said.