Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lilongwe City Council, Kelvin M’mangisa, is refusing to testify as state witness in the trial of five Malawian human rights defenders, Ms Habiba Osman and Messrs Billy Mayaya, Brian Nyasulu, Ben Chiza Mkandawire and Comfort Chitseko, at the Lilongwe Magistrate Court.
They are charged with holding an illegal demonstration under the Police Act in connection with a peaceful protest which took place in Lilongwe on 14 October 2011.
M’mangisa was expected to testify on Tuesaday at the court but the state said their witness did not run up.
Sources close to M’mangisa say he is not interest to support the case against the activists. The case was adjourned.
Habiba Osman is a lawyer with Norwegian Church Aid. Billy Mayaya is the programme manager of the Church and Society programme of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian.
All five human rights defenders participated to the demonstration as members of the Forum for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), a civil society platform formed in August 2011 to advance pro reform demands.
On 14 October 2011, Osman, Mayaya, Nyasulu, Chiza Mkandawire and Chitseko were arrested and detained after taking part in a peaceful protest outside parliament in Lilongwe.
The protest in question was small and peaceful, and aimed to urge late President Bingu wa Mutharika to call a referendum for an early election, demand the resignation of Police Inspector General Peter Mukhito and call for an investigation into his alleged involvement in the death of student activist Robert Chasowa, who was found dead in September 2011.
His death was considered by police as suicide but injuries inconsistent with suicide were found on the body, which lead civil society to believe that he was murdered.
They were charged with holding an illegal demonstration under the Police Act.