Malawi online journo case: Presidential aide Rev Mtonga to give key testimony

President Joyce Banda’s special advisor Reverend Malani Mtonga is one of the two State witnesses to testify against online journalist Justice Mponda in court on January 14, 2013 ho was arrested on Monday, October 15, 2012, for allegedly insulting President Joyce Banda and publishing false information.

According to court documents, sourced by Nyasa Times, Ntonga claims to have valid evidence that Mponda is Managing Editor of Malawi Voice, and that he indeed published the spate of articles deemed untrue and having potential to cause public disorder.

The evidence in Ntonga’s procession, according to the documents, is emanating from Facebook correspondence between the cleric and the journalist, in which Mponda is said to have revealed his main role at the online publication.

Apparently, Ntonga, Nyasa Timeshas established, played a spy in the whole saga and befriended unsuspecting Mponda on Facebook.

Mponda: Facing

Mtonga succeeded in hoodwinking the reporter into divulging information on how Malawi Voice operates, which the Man of God would use in court as testimony.

Bail relaxed

Meanwhile, the Lilongwe Magistrate Court on Friday relaxed bail conditions for Mponda and ordered the immediate release of all ICT gadgets Police confiscated during his arrest.

The gadgets include three desktop computers, flash disks and a Samsung mobile phone.

The court varied the bail conditions after defence attorney, Chancy Gondwe argued that, by confiscating the gadgets, State breached Mponda’s right to privacy, which is safeguarded by the Constitution.

Gondwe also asked the court to determine whether evidence attained through such means would be admissible in court.

However, National State Prosecutor Happy Mkandawire maintained that the gadgets were confiscated solely on the purpose of investigation, which he indicated that are now over.

During his determination, Magistrate Benjamin Mchulu said the state must move with speed in restoring the gadgets.

Mchulu also ordered that Mponda should now be reporting to Blantyre Police once per fortnight; instead of every Monday of as was set before.

The magistrate also dismissed the state’s application that the case be adjourned to either 30 or 31 January 2013. This was the second time for the state to ask for an adjournment of  the case.

He observed that there was no need to drag the case when the State had finalised investigations and was ready with witnesses to testify against Mponda.

The case has therefore been adjourned to January 14, 2013.

Police, according prosecutor Mkandawire will restore confiscated ICT gadgets at Mponda’s base in Chiwembe Township, Blantyre by Monday, December 17, 2013.

Defence frustrated

In an interview, Gondwe lamented that the State is playing hard-to-get games and will apply for case discharge.

Gondwe complained that it is becoming frustrating and costly to travel a distance of over 500 kilometers from Blantyre to Lilongwe only to get adjournments.

”Once the case resumes in January will apply for discharge or acquital of the accused since there is no evidence and the State is failing to produce any,” Gondwe said.

Mponda was arrested at his Chiwembe home in Blantyre at exactly 4:10am on October 15 and was immediately transferred to Lilongwe, adistance of about 310 kilometres.

Initially, Police charged him with three counts, insulting State President Joyce Banda, publishing false information and criminal libel.

But during his bail hearing on October 16th, it was discovered that police had dropped the three counts and instead charged Mponda with new count of publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm among people.

Mponda’s arrest forced several media and human rights organisations, both local and international to renew their calls for government to stop using archaic insult laws such as Protected Flags, Emblems and Names to arrest journalists arbitrarily.

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