Malawi prosecutors blame ‘internal politics’ in reporters case: Mtonga fails to testify

State prosecutor in the case involving online journalist, Justice Mponda has blamed “internal politics”  for delaying conclusion of the matter after principle witness, Reverend Malani Mtonga failed to turn up for trial on Monday.

Mtonga, who is set to testify against Mponda, failed to take it to the witness box at Lilongwe Magistrates Court after giving excuse that he was busy with State House functions. He is Presidential aide on special duties.

National police prosecutor, Happy Mkandawire told the court he failed to get hold of two of the three witnesses lined-up for the case.

“Mr. Malani Mtonga has just told me this morning that he is busy with state functions while our IT expert, Mr. Jere is in Egypt,” Mkandawire told the court before asking for an adjournment.

Mponda: On trial

The prosecutor apologized to the defence counsel for adjourning the case for the third time.

“We are sorry for our delays to conclude this case; they were reasons beyond our control. That was purely our internal politics. We are very sorry for our friends who are coming all the way from Blantyre; we understand how costly this is,” he said.

Defence lawyer, Chancy Gondwe said it was his hope that  the state will sort out its internal politics in time and conclude the case soon.

“It’s very economically challenging to come all the way from Blantyre for third time now only to find out that the state has brought one witness. This is very annoying,” Gondwe complained.

Principal residence magistrate, Benjamin Chulu has since ordered the state to speed up the trial by bringing evidence to conclude the case by February 8 when the court is expected to make its judgment on the matter, which has stalled for three months due to state’s unpreparedness.

On Monday the state only paraded one witness, Detective Inspector Alfred Mitadyo Mphaka who testified as the police officer who was assigned to arrest Mponda. He told the court that he only received orders from un-named person to arrest the reporter.

But when quizzed by the defence lawyer if at all he knew the charges leveled against Mponda, Mphaka said “am just involved in this case as an arresting officer and I was just advised to arrest him for allegedly publishing false news”.

Mponda was arrested at his Chiwembe home in Blantyre at exactly 4:10 on October 15, 2012 and was immediately transferred to Lilongwe, a distance of about 310 km.

Initially, Police charged Mponda with three counts namely ‘insulting State President Joyce Banda’, ‘publishing false information’ and ‘criminal libel’.

But during his bail hearing on October 16th, it was discovered that police had dropped those three charges and instead  introduced a new charge; ‘publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm among people’

Mponda’s arrest forced several media and human rights organizations, both local and international to renew their calls for government to using archaic insult laws such as Protected Flags, Emblems and Names to arrest journalists arbitrarily.

Media freedom advocacy organization Misa-Malawi also condemned the instilling of fear and intimidation in journalists by transporting him from his base in Blantyre to Lilongwe.

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