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2 activists denied bail

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By Rebecca Chimjeka & Pilirani Kachinziri:

Gift Trapence

The Lilongwe Magistrates’ Court Wednesday denied bail to human rights activists Gift Trapence and Macdonald Sembereka, who were arrested on Tuesday on allegations of fraud.

The activists will remain in the cooler until Friday when the matter returns to court.

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The two face counts of corruption, fraud and operating an organisation without registering it with Non- Governmental Organisation Board.

Reading the counts, Magistrate Violet Chipawo said the two were operating Mango—a non-governmental organisation that was meant to sensitise sex workers and Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) to rights issues—without registration.

According to the charge sheet, in March 2017 while operating Mango, the two lied to have conducted a workshop at Mkango Lodge using K7.4 million from UNAids and forged receipts for a function which did not take place.

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During Wednesday’s court appearance, State prosecutors pleaded with the court not to grant the two bail.

“There are documents that are not in our possession. They are in custody of Mkango Lodge, so the staff wants to examine them before giving them to the State,” State prosecutor Moja Phiri told the court.

But lawyers representing the activists, Khumbo Soko and Khwima Mchizi, objected to the State’s plea, saying the grounds his clients were being charged on were unfounded because the State came to the court unprepared.

Soko also informed the court that one investigator at Police headquarters wanted to confiscate the accused person’s mobile phones but prosecutors said they did not have such information from investigators.

“There is no way police could have arrested the two without evidence. This is abuse of police and prosecution powers. There is no credible reason for the two to spend days in custody. There is lack of seriousness on the part of the State,” Soko said.

The suspects have been remanded at Maula Prison. Trapence was among the organisers of the recent demonstrations to force Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Jane Ansah to resign over the manner in which the commission handled the May 21 Tripartite Elections.

Earlier Wednesday, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera visited the suspects at Lilongwe Police Station to give them moral support.

Meanwhile, the United Nations office in Malawi released a statement last evening calling for the release of the activists, saying the matter over the funds had been resolved.

“The United Nations understands that a case in court is going to be held today, 10 July, 2019, in Lilongwe against Mr Gift Trapence and Mr MacDonald Sembereka and may be based on information provided by UNAids.

“In this respect, the United Nations wants to clarify that the case affecting Mango has reached an amicable resolution, and the funds will be repaid to UNAids. The declaration made by UNAids staff members to the police on 5 July 2019 did not represent legal action by the organisation.

“The United Nations would like to seek the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Malawi Police Service’s immediate cooperation to effectively release those individuals from police custody,” reads the press release.

Meanwhile, international human rights and health rights organisations have demanded the immediate release of Trapence.

Some of the 10 organisations which signed the press statement Wednesday are Lawyers For Human Rights, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, Global Network of People Living with HIV and Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa.

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