Zomba-based High Court Judge Justice Zione Ntaba has recused herself in a murder case of a 22-year-old young man with albinism MacDonald Masambuka after Alfred Yohane, one of the suspects, implicated some high profile Malawi government politicians including her uncle Dr Hertherwick Ntaba, an aide to President Peter Mutharika.
Yohane, represented by lawyer Trouble Kalua from Legal Aid Bureau, on Thursday mentioned in court some top politicians serving in the current administration as being behind the attacks, abductions and killings of people with albinism in the country.
But Judge Ntaba stopped her from mentioning the names and gave a gagging order to the media not to report about the names implicated.
However, Yohane has maintained that he will would not change his statements even if he is ‘beheaded’, saying he stands for the truth.
On her recusal, Judge Ntaba said she could not continue be trial judge because Dr Hetherwick Ntaba being implicated is “my paternal uncle. He is my deceased ‘s father brother and judicial ethics require that where there is potential conflict n due to familial ties, the court take stapes to address those issues including recusing oneself from handling the matter,” said Justice Ntaba.
She also pointed out that the court did not put a ‘gag order’ to the media in terms of reporting any other names, saying the court “greatly values” the role of the media but that there are some “limitations” when reporting on certain issues which are based on law.
“Such limitations are necessary n an open and democratic society to safeguard the rights of others and in the public interest,” she pointed out.
Testifying in court, Yohane said that Catholic priest Father Thomas Muhosha – who is also another suspect – last year called to meet him at Michongwe Primary School in Ntaja, Machinga, where the priest allegedly said he was looking for tissues of a person with albinism to buy at K100 million.
Yohane said he agreed to hunt for the tissues. He told the court that when he asked the priest about the potential market, Muhosha mentioned Ntaba, the presidential aide and some top government officials in President Peter Mutharika’s administration.
He confessed to murdering Masambuka while claiming that he did so on instructions from Muhosha, who allegedly told him that he was doing so on behalf of top government officials including Ntaba.
Father Muhosha denies the murder charge but in January this year, the court found Muhosha and 12 others with a case to answer.
Besides Muhosha and Yohane, the suspects include Masambuka’s brother Cassim White Masambuka who faces three charges of murder, trafficking in persons and causing another person to harm a person with disability.
The trial has not been short of drama since it started with Yohane who faces a possible death sentence recording a Whatsapp voice note in which he recorded in prison with Chikondi Chileka claimed that top government officials were involved in the killing of albinos.
In May, the court declined an application from public broadcaster MBC to be covering the trial live on television and radio.
In recusing herself, judge Ntaba said she strongly believes in integrity of the Malawi justice system as well as the independence and impartiality of judicial officers including her.
“Further, the judicial ethics state that I should not preside over a case where the conduct of a close relative such as my uncle is brought in as a very significant issue. Therefore, I hereby recuse myself from continuing to try this matter,” stated judge Ntaba.
She ordered that the case file be transferred to the High Court in Blantyre to be assigned to another judge.
In Zomba High Court registry there are two judges – Ntaba and Redson Kapindu. But Ntaba said she did not consider it appropriate to transfer the matter to Justice Kapindu as he is currently already attending to various trials for person with albinism and other highly involving criminal cases.
The body of Masambuka, 22, who hailed from Nakawa Village, Traditional Authority Nkoola in Machinga, was found buried on April 1 2018 after he was reported missing in March the same year.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :