On 24 February 1997, Misheck Sayidi Mbewe, from Chikokosa Village, Traditional Authority Mduwa in Mchinji was wrongfully arrested for robbery.
At the time, President Bakili Muluzi was just three years into power. Mbewe was working as a messenger at Mchinji District Commissioner’s office. He vividly recalls the ordeal at around 3pm on that day.
“There were two people at a shop’s veranda sniggering at me as I cycled from the post office to collect mail. It was drenched in rain as it rained heavily on that day. I did not know either of them or was aware that they were CID officers at Mchinji police coming from our office looking for me,” recalls Mbewe.
After being informed by a colleague that police were hunting for him, Mbewe left immediately to surrender himself at the police station.
He says a corpulent and wild-eyed constable was the OB keeper on the day. He interrogated him and told him that he faced many charges and among them; breaking into a building at DC office where he stole tents and misplaced a sewing machine.
This, Mbewe said, was news to him as he never heard of a missing tent or sewing machine at the office.
But when he opened his lips to ask the officer a question, the officer’s only tool for argument were fists and a battle stick. He says his mouth worked but couldn’t raise a retort.
So peculiar about his arrest was the manner in which it was handled. He was bundled into a police armoured vehicle and whisked through the district’s streets on their way to Lilongwe to be dumped into a grimy match box room at Kachere remand prison – now prison for juveniles – in anticipation of standing for trial at a magistrate’s court.
Not that there was no prison in Mchinji at the time, but Mbewe is of the view the act had a nefarious intention of keeping him away from his relatives.
“I cried, I pleaded for forgiveness, promised to reform over and over again even when I knew I was not in the wrong but just wanted to avoid the whipping but they dismissed my request,” Mbewe narrated.
He spent two years in prison and appeared in court 28 times between 1997 and 1999 at Mchinji Magistrate’s Court where the state failed to adduce evidence against the offence as most of the witnesses, they paraded were villagers instead of officials from Mchinji DC where the properties were said to have been stolen.
He walked free at the age of 39 and now Mbewe is 61 and still looking for justice.
To him the court resolution was only palliative to address his problems of unfair dismissal and wrongful detention.
His life and that of his family had qualitatively been worsened forcing his three children to drop out of school.
“Some people thought that I was a free man now that the court released me but the fact is that I am in a bigger jail than ever even after 22 years of acquittal,” he says.
With a poor background, he lacked financial muscle to summon a strong legal representation needed to fight it out with the government.
In 2001 he lodged a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman and the same year investigations started in earnest. About three offices were visited which included police, court and DC office—all at Mchinji.
Many people were asked into his wrongful detention but, unfortunately, reports from police, DC and the court gave different accounts to the Ombudsman adding the ruin to the family of Mbewe.
The Ombudsman was appalled by the apparent cover-up and lacklustre manner of the reports with DC’s report embellishing death to Mbewe and fresh Investigation into death claims by the DC’s office took years to establish if it was true that he died or not until 2019 when the Ombudsman office found that there was lack of consistence in the claims.
Later, the Ombudsman released a report and wrote Mchinji District Commissioner’s office to pay Mbewe compensation for wrongfully detention and unfair dismissal by using the salary scale of a messenger at the prevailing rate.
Speaking at Simphasi ground in Mchinji during initial feedback in the Chilungamo Project funded by the European Union (EU), Grace Malere said the Office of the Ombudsman is mandated under the law to look into the conduct of government maladministration.
“The dignity of those acquitted must be restored, thus it is imperative that the harm inflicted on them must be redressed within the framework of rights rather than charity like in the case of Misheck Mbewe who was giving his testimony today,” Malere said.
Mbewe who said is expecting to receive K23 million from government in compensation thanked the Ombudsman office for its sturdy stance on justice and remaining last line of defence against political gladiators and oppression and abuse of office in government institutions.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :