The State on Wednesday formally charged human rights activists Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka, but the duo will wait until Friday to know the verdict of their bail application.
Chief resident magistrate Violet Palikena Chipawo has since remanded the two to Maula Prison in Lilongwe, but has pended her ruling on their bail application to 10am this Friday.
In Criminal Case number 650 of 2019 between the Republic and McDonald Sembereka (first accused) and Gift Trapence (second accused), the State has charged Sembereka with three counts while Trapence is facing four in relation to a March 2017 transaction.
During their appearance at the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court following their arrest on Tuesday afternoon, the duo looked calm and composed in their plain black suits.
Reading the charge sheet the State presented during a court session held between 2.21pm and 3.49pm, the magistrate said Sembereka is suspected of forgery of official documents, uttering a false document and money laundering and operating a non-governmental organsation (NGO) ‘Mango’ without registration with the NGO Board.
She said Trapence, on the other hand, is suspected of forgery of official documents of Mkango Lodge in Blantyre for a purported lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) and sex workers workshop which never happened, uttering false documents and operating an NGO ‘Mango’ without registering with the NGO Board.
The duo is co-accused of acquiring K7.4 million for the said workshop on LGBTI and sex workers.
Read Chipawo: “You are also accused of acquiring K7.4 million for training for LGBTI and sex workers, but converted the money to your own use than the training.”
The State, represented by police prosecutor Moja Phiri, pleaded for a 15-day remand for the suspects to allow completion of investigations, arguing that releasing the two would jeopardise the same.
He said: “The investigator has feared that if follow-ups will be made while they are on bail, there will be interference as those contacted are already known by the accused persons. It is for this reason that we plea for 15 days to wind up the task.”
But defence lawyer Khumbo Soko wondered why the State proceeded to effect arrests without having any evidence.
He said one is not guilty until proven so by a competent court. adding that by arresting the two suspects, the State is denying them personal liberty.
Soko also dismissed the State’s arguments as both casual and baseless, arguing that they amount to accusing a person without evidence.
He said: “The request for plea by the State is strange. They allege of documents which they don’t even have. They allege that documents were forged, but they don’t have such forged documents.”
Following adjournment of the matter to Friday, sympathisers of Trapence and Sembereka, who were gathered outside the court, said they were worried over the safety of the suspects.
“We are concerned with security of the two. We want them to be okay. We have already witnessed deaths of key suspects in key cases. So, we want an assurance,” said politician Jessie Kabwila.
Chants of ‘osaopa’ (no fear) from the sympathisers prompted the police to let the duo address the crowd before taking them to Maula Prison.
“I am okay. I plead with you to keep calm. Don’t worry, things are under control,” said Trapence.
In the morning, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera visited the two at Lilongwe Police Station in Area 3 where they spent Tuesday night. He said he visited the duo to provide moral support.
In an earlier interview after his arrest on Tuesday, Trapence said the purported unregistered organisation is Mango Key Populations Network run by McDonald Sembereka.
Trapence is executive director of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) while Sembereka serves as the institution’s board chairperson.