- Nov 6, 2001Malawi's treason trial
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
Mr Chipeta is himself facing court proceedings
on charges of issuing judgements favourable to
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.
follows complaints by
the ruling United
Democratic Front, UDF,
that the three senior
judges were working in
cahoots with the
There were emotional scenes and a near
fracas in the High Court in Blantyre on Monday
as the judge announced his withdrawal from
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,"
Mr Chipeta also said that however he directed
the jury in the case, both parties would be
He therefore said the safest way forward was
to withdraw from the case and hand it over to
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.
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
wants to interfere with
Mr Sulaimana has said
that the treason trial
itself was a plot to
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.
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
were not his clients'
"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.
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
In a strongly-worded ruling, Justice Banda
asked where Malawi's young democracy was
going when even judges could be threatened in
"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
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