Law professor accuses Army General of abusing his power in social media activist arrest

Social media activist, Joshua Chisa Mbele, who was arrested on Tuesday in relation to a Facebook post in which he alleged that Malawi Defence Force Commander, General Vincent Nundwe corruptly benefitted a sum of K4 billion from deals with Zuneth Sattar, has been granted bail on Friday after pleading not guilty.

However, South Africa-based law professor, Danwood Chirwa accuses Army General Nundwe of abusing his power by “starting a process that ended with unleashing a truckload of police on Mbele for something that could at worst constitute civil defamation.

“He shouldn’t have done this,” argues the renowned law professor. “This action has lowered his reputation in the estimation of right thinking Malawians.”

Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate, Wanangwa Chirwa has since granted bail to Chisa Mbele from the charges of two counts — criminal libel contrary to section 200 of the penal code and publication of offensive communication contrary to section  87 of the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act.

Nundwe – General and Commander of Malawi Defence Force

The particulars of the offense are that Mbele using his Facebook account on January 10, 2022 alleged that General Nundwe corruptly benefitted the sum of K4 billion from deals with Zuneth Sattar who is currently under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Magistrate Chirwa granted Mbele bail on conditions that he pays a K20,000 cash bond; present two sureties both bonded at K300,000 non-cash; should not express himself in any manner that promotes hate and materials that has potential to damage other people’s reputation.

Mbele, 57 — of Chiloko Village, T/A Maganga in Salima — has also been ordered to report to the Police station once every week.

Professor Danwood Chirwa, a South Africa-based law expert

In his arguments, Prof. Chirwa says there are lawful options that were and are still open to the General, that include:

1. Issue a press release refuting the document. Given his reputation up to yesterday, everybody would have believed him or given him the benefit of doubt. In any case, no right thinking Malawian believed the published document;

2. Demand an apology from Mbele, which could have been granted readily. The man is known to issue countless apologies when he realises he’s wrong;

3. Sue Mbele for defamation (if he’s minded to extract some cash from Mbele who does have a deep pocket).

“If the General fully understood and appreciated the public’s clamour for accountability around corruption and looting, and considering that we know that the Sattar affair implicates the army, the police, politicians within and outside government and civil servants, these are the actions he should have taken as the number one and patriotic soldier:

4. Investigate his organisation and produce a report exposing the truth about its involvement with Sattar looting;

5. Court-Marshall and dismiss all those soldiers implicated in wrong doing;

6. Cooperate with or volunteer to the ACB all relevant information.

“The General defended democracy at a critical time in Malawi’s history, and can play an important role in combating corruption and looting. He still can take the actions outlined above and redeem himself.

“At the moment it looks as if he has joined and completed the obstruction of justice triumvirate, an unholy alliance that has brought significant disrepute to the entire Mzuzu Corner,” Chirwa said.

In August last year, Chisa Mbele obeyed a Lilongwe High Court order that directed him to issue a public apology to Nick Chakwera, son to the State President over alleged defamatory remarks he made on social media Facebook linking him to the infamous plunder of the K6.2 billion CoVID-19 funds.

The Court also directed Chisa Mbele to retract the offending publication by permanently deleting it in its entirety from his Facebook wall, which Mbele announced on Facebook the same day of the court order — Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

“I hereby unreservedly and unconditionally apologize to Mr. Nick Chakwera,” he had written on his wall. “The defamatory statement was erroneously attributed to me, I nevertheless issue the apology not withstanding the circumstances.

“Mr Nick Chakwera is an upright, honest person with spotless character. He is an exemplary citizen. I sincerely apologize for the pain and anguish the said Facebook status and or subsequent comments might have caused.

“Mr Mbele is a man of God. Where I have erred, I withdraw and apologize. I do recognize that I’m never above common social status and or any applicable law.

The picture that has dismayed Kasambara

Meanwhile, former Justice Minister and Attorney General, Ralph Kasambara weighed in by expressing concern that Chisa Mbele “is not a violent criminal, nor does he pose a threat of running away” but “why handcuff him?” This is a man that went to surrender himself to police immediately he became aware of the fact that the police were looking for him”, thus why handcuffing him.

“If the idea [to handcuff him] was to embarrass him, I am sorry to tell you that it has dismally failed. Actually it has boomeranged. Some of us didn’t comment on this matter as we respected the due process of the law.

“Now we are questioning the whole process. First why not give him police bail? Secondly, why not take him to court on same day he was arrested?

“Thirdly, why should bail proceedings be dragged on and on? Fourthly, are we going back to the dark days of censorship. Please, please this sort of intimidation breeds zigoba and vitriolic attacks on individuals by imaginary persons.

“We supported your promise for rule of law and promotion of human rights. Please, please don’t backslide on these,” he said, adding that he has “never been a supporter of quiet/silent diplomacy when human rights abuses are openly and contumaciously committed”.

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