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Absent suspect spoils defilement case

Defilement survivor’s long wait for justice

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Siphiwe Malihera

A young girl allegedly defiled by a Pakistani, Muhammad Hanif, will wait until God knows when to have justice served. THOMAS KACHERE writes.

On March 15 last year, a 56-year-old Pakistan national, Muhammad Hanif, allegedly defiled a 14-year-old girl at Mudi in Limbe.

The girl was on her way to Bangwe when the suspect reportedly forced himself on her after he had offered her a lift.

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Hanif allegedly diverted to Mudi where he forcefully undressed and defiled the girl before escaping from the ‘crime scene’.

“He locked the gate immediately after we had entered the compound. He then pulled my trousers down and defiled me before abandoning me there.

“I picked the phone which he had dropped and returned to Mudi Police Unit the following morning where I reported the matter,” says the girl we will call Ruth.

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After the case was transferred to Limbe Police, one officer, Sub- Inspector Ishmael Abubas, who was handling it, allegedly altered the charge sheet and indicated it was a rape case, not the original defilement.

The prosecutor also reportedly paraded a false witness in court as a way of protecting the suspect who was later discharged.

Apparently, money exchanged hands, thus the ‘dubious’ discharge which was contested by the Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) and attracted the attention of the Anti- Corruption Bureau.

Hanif was re-arrested and his case was set for retrial.

He has since breached his bail conditions.

Apparently, his son wrote the Limbe Magistrates’ Court, where his case is being re-heard, and Chreaa, notifying them about the missing of Hanif.

The letter, which we have seen, indicates that the suspect went missing on April 9.

“He took few items and sneaked out of the house and has not returned since then,” reads the letter in which the son claims Hanif was a heavy drinker.

The suspect’s lawyer Idris Cassim said he was not aware of his client’s whereabouts because he has been sick for a couple of weeks.

“It is news to me and I am hearing it from you. I will contact the son to find out if indeed my client is missing,” Cassim said in an interview.

Private-practice lawyer, Ruth Kaima, who is co-prosecuting the case with the Malawi Police Service, described the development as a terrible miscarriage of justice.

She disclosed that many things happened for the case to be reinstated “but to date, trial has failed to take place”.

“From a human rights perspective, I think it is high time our courts paid particular attention to cases before them before granting suspects bail, much as it is their right.

“In this particular case, it has been all clear that the police deliberately arranged to rescue the suspect,” Kaima charged.

On his part, Chreaa’s Monitoring and Evaluation Manager Siphiwe Malihera said by absconding trial, the suspect has vindicated fears that granting him bail would not be in the best interest of justice.

“We made it very clear in the first place that this suspect is not supposed to benefit from his right to bail. It was clear that the police officer involved wanted the suspect out,” Malihera said.

Meanwhile, according to Regional Prosecution Officer for the south, Damiano Kaputa, a fresh warrant of arrest has been obtained by the police.

Kaputa said he has sent the fresh warrant to all police stations and units in the country.

Human rights activist Undule Mwakasungula believes the case typifies how weak the country’s legal system is.

“I appeal to the courts that, much as suspects are innocent until proven guilty, they should look at and protect the interests of victims too,” Mwakasungula said.

He has challenged the police to get to the bottom of the matter so that justice is served for the defiled girl.

An enquiry by the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) into the discharge of Hanif found that instead of taking the defiled girl to court, Abubas presented a 25-year-old business lady as the victim.

In August last year, ACB arrested the prosecutor, two women and the alleged rape suspect “for offering a bribe to the actual 14-year-old victim”.

“The bureau’s investigations established that Hanif, who was answering a defilement case prosecuted by Abubas, conspired with the prosecutor and other two women to withdraw the case by giving out money to the victim through the two women,” the graft-busting body said that time.

The four were charged with conspiracy to defeat the course of justice, neglect of official duty and aiding and abetting perjury, as the case might be.

They were later granted bail.

Little has apparently happened ever since until Hanif went missing.

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