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  • Christine Chumbler
    Nov 6, 2001
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      Malawi's treason trial
      judge resigns

      By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

      A high-profile treason trial in Malawi, in which
      four people are being accused of plotting to
      overthrow the government of President Bakili
      Muluzi, will have to start again following the
      sudden withdrawal of presiding judge, Justice
      Anaclet Chipeta.

      Mr Chipeta is himself facing court proceedings
      on charges of issuing judgements favourable to
      opposition parties.

      With two other judges, Justices Dunstain
      Mwaungulu and George Chimasula Phiri, Mr
      Chipeta is scheduled to appear before
      parliament in Lilongwe on Tuesday at the start
      of their impeachment proceedings.

      The impeachment
      follows complaints by
      the ruling United
      Democratic Front, UDF,
      that the three senior
      judges were working in
      cahoots with the
      opposition.

      New trial

      There were emotional scenes and a near
      fracas in the High Court in Blantyre on Monday
      as the judge announced his withdrawal from
      the case.

      He told the shocked courtroom that he could
      not continue with the treason case when he
      himself was on trial.

      "I can't put everybody on hold as I am
      preparing my own defence before parliament,"
      he said.

      Mr Chipeta also said that however he directed
      the jury in the case, both parties would be
      suspicious.

      He therefore said the safest way forward was
      to withdraw from the case and hand it over to
      another judge.

      Everybody in the packed courtroom held their
      breath as the judge went on to explain that
      this means the case should start afresh with a
      new jury and a new judge and that the state
      should recall all the 15 witnesses.

      Shocked indignation

      Soon after the judge made his ruling, all the
      four suspected coup-plotters and their lawyers
      reacted with shocked indignation.

      Alleged coup leader Sudi Adak Sulaimana told
      journalists he would rather rot in jail than come
      back to court after another judge is appointed.

      "We are being
      persecuted," he said.
      "How can we endure all
      that once more
      because parliament
      wants to interfere with
      the judiciary?"

      Mr Sulaimana has said
      that the treason trial
      itself was a plot to
      discredit Malawi's
      opposition leader.

      He claims the
      government had offered him money and his
      freedom if he promised to say National
      Democratic Alliance leader Brown Mpinganjira
      was behind the attempted coup.

      Near tears

      Mr Sulaimana's co-accused, soldier Moses
      Bwanali, in near tears, said his wife had given
      birth to his baby while he was in prison.

      He said since the case was nearing its end, he
      thought he would be able to see his baby since
      he said he was convinced he was innocent.

      Defence lawyer Fabiano
      Mzumara told BBC News
      Online he would apply
      for bail because the
      latest developments
      were not his clients'
      fault.

      "The court might take a
      long time to appoint a
      new judge so my
      clients, if they will be kept in prison, will suffer
      for no reason of their own making," he said.

      Injunction

      Director of Public Prosecution Fahad Assani
      said he was totally taken by surprise with
      Justice Chipeta's ruling.

      "I need more time to find out the way
      forward," he told BBC News Online.

      Meanwhile another High Court judge, Bathiel
      Chiudza Banda, slapped Parliament with an
      injunction, restraining MPs from summoning the
      three judges.

      In a strongly-worded ruling, Justice Banda
      asked where Malawi's young democracy was
      going when even judges could be threatened in
      their job.

      "I am granting the injunction in the national
      interest," he said.

      In yet another twist, Speaker of Parliament
      Sam Mpasu told Monday's sitting of parliament
      that the three judges would no longer be
      summoned because the Judicial Service
      Commission had appeal to him not to call the
      judges until the Commission investigates the
      three judges' alleged misconduct.

      It is not clear what this means for Justice
      Chipeta's resignation.
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