Treason for Mutharika to be dropped: Law experts say Malawi President enjoys immunity

Malawi’s newly elected president, Peter Mutharika, will have his treason charge and other related criminal charges are to be discontinued following his ascendancy to the highest position of the land which goes with immunity from prosecution, a legal expert and Attorney General have indicated.

The 74-year-old brother of former president Bingu wa Mutharika is accused of attempting to conceal his brother’s death in office two years ago in an attempt to prevent Joyce Banda — then vice-president — from assuming power.

Banda prevailed and took office as decreed by the constitution, booting the former foreign minister out of the administration, but Mutharika beat her soundly in the May 20 election.

President Mutharika now enjoys immunity from prosecution

President Mutharika now enjoys immunity from prosecution

President Mutharika and other senior officials of his Democratic Progressive Party(DPP), face additional counts of inciting a mutiny and conspiracy to commit a felony.

He denies all the accusations.

Malawian law expert Professor Danwood Chirwa told Nyasa Times in an interview that President Mutharika cannot be prosecuted until he is out of office.

“The Constitution gives the President immunity from any criminal prosecution,” he enlightened.

“As to the specific offences he was charged with, treason is the most controversial and difficult to prosecute after the government or person it was alleged to be committed leaves power. Treason has always been a political offence and it is not uncommon for a new government to drop any interest in prosecuting anyone charged with it. In this case, even without shield of immunity, Mutharika would not have been expected to prosecute himself,” said Chirwa.

The law expert said Banda’s government had “sufficient time” to prosecute the charges if it believed they had evidence but not it did not happen.
“There are two good reasons behind the presidential immunity and allowing those charged to contests in elections. The first is the presumption of innocence which dictates that we must not pass judgment on people’s guilt based merely on allegations.

“The second is that it is easy to trump up charges against political opponents as a means of eliminating competition. This has been particularly been a problem in Africa where incumbents tend to consolidate their power through unfair means and tactics,” said Chirwa.

Attorney General Anthony Kamanga also confirmed the charges will be set aside, explaining that Malawi’s presidents enjoy “constitutional immunity from prosecution” as long as they are in office.

DPP spokesman Nicholas Dausi said on Sunday the charges will die a natural death.

“That was political persecution of the highest order, and I hope the treason case falls away automatically that the court will rule to discontinue the case, and I hope there would be reparations for the persecution that we have endured,” said Dausi on VOA.

“We hope that it will close that chapter where there was quite an orchestrated and concerted effort to erase the DPP by arresting, [and] threatening members of DPP through flimsy charges.”

There is however fevered speculation that President Mutharika could turn the tables on former president Banda and have her charged with corruption over the “cashgate” scandal.

But the DPP spokesman said it is unlikely Mutharika will persecute his opponents after he promised to unite the country to build a better nation.

“The president has also said he is not going to be vengeful, no retribution,” said Dausi. “We want all Malawi people regardless of diversity of opinions regardless of political parties we must come together as a people, as a nation to develop the country.”

“There shall be no dismissal civil servants or government officials on the point of political affiliation,” said Dausi.

The official inauguration of Mutharika as Malawi’s fifth President will be held at the Kamuzu Banda stadium in the country’s commercial capital, Blantyre, on Monday.

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