Bail granted to Malawi online journalist: Magistrate Viva Nyimba queries State over bail delay

The Blantyre Magistrates Court has granted bail to Justice Mponda, an editor of online publication Malawi Voice, who was arrested on Friday for allegedly extorting money from Peoples Party (PP) official, Joseph Chikwemba.

Mponda, 26 and hails from Nkhonya village, T/A Chikumbu in Mulanje has been charged with “Extortion” contrary to Section 305 of the Penal Code.

He has since pleaded not guilty to the offence.

Earlier on, the police had charged Mponda with an offence of ‘Intimidating Royal Family’ and ‘Extortion’ but was dropped the first charge for unexplained reasons.

According to case charge-sheet, Mponda, on October 29th and November 1, 2013, is reported to have allegedly threatened Chikwemba – a ruling PP deputy administrative secretary and parliamentary aspirant for Zomba central constituency –  to pay K500,000 or will publish several stories linking him (Chikwemba) and his political associates to massive theft of public funds.

Journalist Mponda (left) with his lawyer Chancy Gondwe: Released on bail, charged with extortion

Bail Application

Mponda, through his lawyer, Chancy Gondwe, applied for bail after State counsel, Jairos Chafunsa asked for adjournment of the case, saying they were, at the moment, not ready to commence prosecution trial.

However, Chafunsa indicated that the State will parade three witnesses to testify against Mponda once trial starts.

Gondwe asked the presiding Senior Resident Magistrate, Viva Nyimba  (former human rights leading lawyer) to consider bail based on Section 42 (2e) of the Constitution as read together with Section 118 of Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, which gives  a right to any person arrested to be released from detention with or without bail unless interest of justice requires otherwise.

“This is a bailable offence if ranked with other serious offences being brought before this court. Bail can be granted irrespective of the nature of the case. No interest of justice will be compromised. And the accused has right to be presumed innocent at this stage,” Gondwe argued.

Gondwe further argued that his client had reliable surety and that has no intention to compromise interest of justice if granted bail.

The State did not object to the bail application but asked the court to provide strict conditions to ensure Mponda is always available for trial.

“State will not object to the application, but we urge the court to put strict conditions to ensure availability for trial and investigations, if need be, by the suspect,” Chafunsa said.

However, Nyimba before granting bail questioned the law-enforcers for contravening the 48-Hour condition, which demands release on bail for arrested suspects.

Nyimba queried: “According to charge-sheet, the suspect was arrested on Friday, why was he kept in custody all these days? Why 48-hour condition wasn’t applied?”

Chafunsa conceded that the State indeed contravened the condition, which is stipulated by law, saying “This is why we didn’t object to the bail application”. According to set bail conditions, Mponda paid a bail bond of K10, 000 (cash) and provided two surety bonded at K10, 000 each.

He is expected to report to State Advocate Chamber on Wednesdays of every fortnight. The case has been adjourned to November 25, 2013 when trial is expected to commence.

This is the second time, Mponda has been arrested.

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