Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Violet Chipawo has granted bail to two human rights activists Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembeleka arrested for alleged fraud after the United Nations (UN) demanded their unconditional release.
The State has charged Sembereka with three counts while Trapence is facing four counts.
Sembereka is suspected of forgery of official documents, uttering a false document and money laundering and operating an unregistered NGO.
Trapence, on the other hand, is suspected of forgery of official documents of Mkango Lodge in Blantyre for a purported lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) and sex workers workshop which never happened, uttering false documents and operating an NGO ‘Mango’ without registering it with the NGO Board.
The duo is also co-accused of acquiring K7.4 million for the said workshop on LGBTI and sex workers.
Making her bail ruling on Friday, Chipawo said each of the suspect should pay K200 000 surity, one surity each to pay MK1 million bond each, should be reporting at the Police Headquarters on Friday every fortnight and should not interfere with the investigations.
The state had earlier objected to the bail application citing further ongoing investigations, possible interference with witnesses among other as reasons.
Further, the state said they brought the suspects to court within the prescribed legal timeframe after being arrested.
However, the court found the reasons lacking.
“The compliance of the 48 hours rule should not be a blanket authority to further detain the accused. The State should not arrest and investigate later. Even the notion that they want further investigation does not warrant further detention,” said Chipawo. adding that the suspects should enjoy their right to liberty.
Police Prosecutor Moja Phiri applied to the court to add another bail condition that the two should surrender their travelling documents to the police which the defence lawyer Khumbo Soko did not object but rather suggested that they surrender the same to court.
Malawi Police Service (MPS) has since sought guidance from the Attorney General (AG) in the case following numerous calls, including one from UN and its agency, the Joint UN Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids), for the release of activists.
In its letter to the Malawi Government on Wednesday after the arrest of the duo on Tuesday afternoon, the UN office in Malawi said the matter was “amicably resolved” and denied reporting the issue to police.
According to a statement from UNAids headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, UNAids and Mango Network reached a resolution on the issue and that the UN agency did not take any legal action because it believes there was no need for such.
Reads the statement in part: “UNAids respectfully requests the immediate release of the two members of the Mango Network, Mr Gift Trapence and Mr Macdonald Sembereka, from police custody.
“UNAids is strongly supportive of the full empowerment and engagement of civil society organisations in the Aids response.
“It looks forward to continuing its partnership with community and civil society organisations in ensuring that all people affected by HIV have access to HIV prevention, treatment and social support services and that their human rights are protected.”
Trapence is executive director of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) while Sembereka serves as the institution’s board chairperson.
Apart from Cedep, Trapence is also deputy chairperson of Human Rights Defenders Coalition, an organistion which has been organising protests to force the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah for presiding over an allegedly flawed electoral process in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :