Absence of a presiding magistrate on Friday made the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court fail to begin hearing of an application filed by the State to revoke bail for civil and human rights activist Sylvester Namiwa.
Both the State, represented by prosecutor Cecilia Zangazanga, and the defence, waited for nearly two hours before being informed that senior resident magistrate Wanangwa Nyirenda, who was supposed to hear the matter, was unavailable.
Namiwa’s lawyer Oscar Taulo confirmed the development in an interview, saying the parties will now wait for the court to provide a fresh date when the application will be heard.
“The State was expected to apply for bail revocation on the ground that Mr Namiwa participated in demonstrations and we were ready to oppose that. So, we will have to wait for another date to be communicated by the court,” he said.
On Thursday, the State applied for bail revocation of Namiwa, who is executive director of Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives, in pursuant to Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, Chapter 8:01 of the Laws of Malawi.
In the application, which was supported by an affidavit sworn by Superintendent Oscar Nkhoma, the State argued that Namiwa defied his bail conditions by taking part in anti-government demonstrations organised by social media activist Joshua Chisa Mbele.
At the court on Friday, Namiwa was joined in solidarity by several fellow activists, including Youth and Society executive director Charles Kajoloweka.
In an interview, Kajoloweka said he joined Namiwa in defence of the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
He said: “What we are seeing is a growing pattern by the current administration to crack down on those holding different views. This is a bureaucratic mechanism being deployed to intimidate and suffocate freedom of expression and freedom of assembly which are fundamental rights.
“We do not want the State to weaponise the judiciary to stifle these fundamental rights and we trust that the judiciary will not be invited to this careless attack on the civic space.”
Namiwa was arrested at Parliament Building in Lilongwe in August last year on charges of illegal assembly while leading vigils to call upon parliamentarians to explain the mist that surrounded the controversial Loan Authorisation Bill that was allegedly ‘smuggled’ onto the Order Paper for debate by members of Parliament.
In a criminal case number 608 of 2021, Namiwa, alongside 10 others arrested with him, was released on bail on August 13 2021 by the Mkukula Magistrate Court in Lumbadzi, Dowa.
Earlier this week, there was drama in Blantyre when district commissioner Bennet Nkasala forced out Namiwa from a preparatory meeting of the anti-government protests which took place in some parts of the country on Thursday and on Friday.