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Human rights activists out on bail

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By Rebecca Chimjeka:

There was ululation at Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court in Lilongwe when two human rights activists Gift Trapence and Macdonald Sembereka were granted bail.

The two were arrested Tuesday for alleged fraud and operating a non-governmental organisation (NGO) without registering it with NGO Board.

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Sembereka has been charged with four counts while Trapence is facing three counts.

In her ruling on the bail application, Chief Resident Magistrate Violet Chipao said each of the suspects should pay K200,000 surety – one surety each to pay K1 million non-cash bond – should be reporting to Police Headquarters on Friday every fortnight and should not interfere with the investigations.

Chipao also ruled that the two should surrender their travel documents to court.

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Lawrence Armando stood in as surety for Sembereka while Timothy Mtambo stood in for Trapence.

Earlier on, the State had objected to the bail application citing ongoing investigations and possible interference with witnesses among other as reasons.

But Chipao dismissed the State earlier plea that the two should further be remanded until after investigation saying there was no justification not to allow the duo to be given bail.

According to the charges, Sembereka is suspected of forgery of official documents, uttering a false document and money laundering and operating an unregistered NGO while Trapence was charged with cases of forgery of official documents of Mkango Lodge in Blantyre for conducting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) and sex workers workshop which did not take place, uttering false documents and operating an NGO called Mango without registering it with the NGO Board.

They are also co-accused of using K7.4 million for the said workshop on LGBTI and sex workers.

Lawyer representing the two Khwima Nchizi said he is happy that his clients were released on bail and they will adhere to whatever the magistrate has said.

“The argument of the State has been that the two should not be given bail as investigations concerning the matter were still taking place but our position as well as the laws of this country is that investigations must precede an arrest. I am happy that that the court sided will us,” Mchizi said.

Following the arrest of the two, United Nations (UN) demanded of their unconditional release.

On Wednesday, UNAids called for the immediate release of the activists saying it reported Mango to police but the case did not represent legal action against the organisation.

The matter has been adjourned to August 13 for plea taking.

Trapence is Vice-Chairperson of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which has been vocal with calls for Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah to resign for presiding over elections marred by irregularities.

Malawi held tripartite elections on May 21 this year but the polls produced contested results that have thrust the country into turmoil.

HRDC and other groups have called on the authorities to account for the controversial way in which the elections were conducted.

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