Let me start by saying upfront that I consider treason to be a serious offence. Treason-wise, however, the past week has been an interesting one on many; full of contradictions. In drama we would call it a ‘tragi-com’ (mixture of tragedy and comedy).
It all started when the nation woke up to the fact that 3 members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) top brass, Ulemu Msungama, Dr Jessie Kabwila and Louis Chakhwantha were being sought on allegation of plotting a coup against the lawfully instituted government of Malawi.
Msungama was the first to be arrested and released on Police bail. It was reported he was charged with sedition. The logical conclusion was that the others were likely to be charged with sedition too. That is where the dancing started.It was reported the Police wanted to arrest Kabwila and Chakhwantha, who are members of Parliament (MPs) within the precincts of Parliament.It was further reported that irate MPsdismantled a roadblock mounted by the Police who,wisely in my view, drove off.
Under law, MPs are immune from arrest while going to, returning from or within the precincts of Parliament, unless on a treason charge. It was reported that Kabwila then sought to seek refuge at the German Embassy and was arrested at the gate.
While the immunity of MPs could be lifted over a charge of treason, the charge must be a real and bona fidecharge.I would differentiate a charge of treason being made in order to facilitate an arrest and a situation where the facts point to treason. Therefore it does not lie with the Police to arrest the two MPs on a treason charge unless the charge is backed up with credible evidence on their part. As will be seen later, the Police did not have such evidence.
Kabwila was eventually released on bail but after being charged with treason by the Police. Chakhwantha also handed himself over to the Police and was charged with treason and also released on bail. So all three were ‘charged’ with treason and released on Police bail. I am not privy to the contents of the bail conditions of Kabwila and Chakhwantha, but I have seen that of Msungama. It transpired that Msungama was released on his own surety. Now I recall when I raised the oddity of first the Police charging a person with treason and then releasing that on own surety, a colleague simply remarked: ‘just shows you the whole thing is a masquerade. Keep watching, I am sure the charade will get more exciting before it meets its death.’
The Inspector General (IG) of Police decided to address a press conference, bringing the whole charade to a full circle. For starters, the IG is not in the habit of addressing press conferences. So when he does, something is afoot, especially if in doing so he seemingly contradicts the official Police spokesperson. The IG stated that the Police had no evidence for treason against three MCP officials. Now it had earlier been reported that thePolice Spokesperson had said the three were given sedition as ‘holding charges’ and then pressed with treason after recording their statements as formal charges.
If this is true, thenarrest of the MCP officials was premised on sedition and the issues of treason only arose after recording their statement. This then is contradictory to what we were told at first, which is that the three were being sought for treason. It once again it rekindles the debate of whether the arrest of Kabwila and Chakhwantha were lawful.
If the Spokesperson is right, I would argue that the arrest were unconstitutional and unlawful. It violated Parliament’s sanctity. Another statement attributed to the Police Spokesperson is interesting if not outright contradictory: that sedition and treason are ‘interrelated’. This is the first time I have heard this. In fact I should be forthright and say that this is not correct. Sedition and treason are not interrelated. Related offences are called akin offences. Sedition is not an akin offence to treason and neither is the vice versa true.
Now while the drama of the arrests was being played out, Speaker of the National Assembly on Tuesday decided to adjourn the house early amid security concerns and sought assurances from the government, The government quickly reacted through Leader of Government in Parliament, assuring the Parliament that the government would assure immunity of MPs from arrests at Parliament, conceding that there was violation of the parliamentary immunity.
But maybe the last word goes to Presidential spokesperson Gerald Viola whose view on this I would opine is reflective of the majority of Malawians. Asked if President Mutharika takes the WhatsApp conversations serious he replied: “No no no no, the President is not moved because he knows that in Malawi the person is given the position of the president through a vote, so he is not intimidated. He is just probably laughing at the matters that were discussed,”
- This is an abridged version of this article. For the full article visit:http://sunduzwayo.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-week-of-contradiction.html