Government has rebuffed demands by 14 National Registration Bureau (NRB) workers who sued Cabinet minister Grace Chiumia for ordering their arrest last September when she headed the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security.
But a sworn statement signed by senior State advocate Aristotle Mahonga indicates that the Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development can be sued in her personal capacity.
On January 9 this year, the 14 workers filed Civil Cause number 5 of 2018 at the High Court in Mzuzu demanding damages worth K140 million for false imprisonment, defamation, assault, inconvenience, transport expenses and legal costs.
They also want Chiumia to pay the legal costs.
“The claimants no longer enjoy association and social interaction with friends as before, for they are labelled as confusionists. The claimants’ reputations have been damaged as a result of the accusation and attendant arrest,” read the court documents in part.
“The claimants suffered assault through being physically dragged into a police van by police officers. The claimants suffered inconveniences as a result of detention. The claimants spent money while in Mzuzu and continue to spend money in their respective places of residence by way of transport expenses to honour police bail.”
They also argue that they suffered false imprisonment as they were in police custody on false accusations of attempting to wreak havoc and confusion and of convening an unlawful assembly.
But Mahonga filed counter-arguments, dated January 30 2018, in which he says the arrests were made “on reasonable and probable cause”.
Argues the State: “…the allegation of false imprisonment, defamation, assault, and inconvenience as pleased and particularised in the claimant’s statement of claim are denied.
“The defendant contends that his officers had reasonable and probable cause to arrest the claimants as the complaint that they received disclosed a prima facie case for unlawful assembly against the claimants.”
The State further argues that the alleged injuries, loss and damages in the claimants’ statement of case are also denied.
Chiumia stands accused of ordering the arrest of the NRB officers who convened at Mzuzu Shoprite on September 27 2018 to discuss “personal and work related issues”.
They were released on police bail 28 hours after detention following pressure from their workmates and civil society.
Following the arrest and their release, the 14, through their lawyers Chram Associates, wrote Chiumia and the Attorney General (AG) on September 19 2017, demanding K140 million as compensation for false arrest.
The AG responded on October 30 2017, through senior State advocate Neverson Chisiza, that the matter was being taken seriously, asking the lawyers to pend litigation so that they discuss with their clients.
However, three months elapsed without any action from Chiumia and the AG, forcing them to take legal action.