The Blantyre Magistrate Court has again refused to grant bail to self-proclaimed leader of United States of Thyolo and Mulanje and Peoples’ Land Organisation (PLO), Vincent Wandale and 22 members of PLO charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, unauthorised use of land, criminal trespass and inciting violence.
Wandale was refused bail during a first appearance before Blantyre Magistrates’ Court.
He was arrested on September 2 while the 22 of Wandale’s followers were arrested on September 1 2016 after hundreds of villagers, mostly from Thyolo, invaded privately owned Conforzi Tea Estate in Thyolo and started sharing land among them.
Senior Resident Magistrate Thokozani Soko said: “It is in the interest of justice that the accused be release on bail. However, those conditions are not absolute but depend on the conviction of the court. I therefore deny granting bail to the accused because doing so may lead to seriousness interference with the case.”
Soko said could not grant bail to the accused persons to prevent them from committing more serious crimes and for their safety, saying their conduct have caused shock to the Malawi community and their lives might be in danger.
She also said that since the accused persons stay in different places, it could be difficult for the police to monitor them during the time of trial.
The court also dismissed Wandale’s submission to court that arresting him was in violation of the law. The PLO leader told the court that he is immune to criminal proceedings as supreme leader of the United States of Mulanje and Thyolo, a state he declared on March 31 2016.
Magistrate Soko told the court that Malawi has only one elected President, emphasising that Thyolo and Mulanje is not a State but a district in Malawi.
She said the President of Malawi is mandated to look after all the land of the country and that he divided his powers to chiefs to look after customary land and not to the leader of PLO.
“PLO members have taken the law in their hands. They want to divide this peaceful nation. We all know that all land in this country is in the hands of the president. I would advise the members to follow proper channels in addressing their issues,” said Soko.
Wandale pleaded not guilty to the four counts while the remaining 21 people answering the first three counts also denied the charges.
The court also dismissed Wandale’s request to have the case changed from criminal to civil and that other accused persons should not be tried as individuals but him and trustees of the organisation be tried on their behalf and the State argued that the 23 were arrested as individuals and not on behalf of the organisation.
The case has since been adjourned to September 12, 2016 to start the trial.
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