Malawi Police Service (MPS) has sought guidance from the Attorney General (AG) in the case of two human rights activists arrested for alleged fraud after the United Nations (UN) demanded their unconditional release.
MPS Inspector General (IG) Rodney Jose’s move comes against a background of numerous calls, including one from UN and its agency, the Joint UN Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids), for the release of activists Gift Trapence and the Reverend McDonald Sembereka. The two are currently remanded at Maula Prison in Lilongwe pending a ruling this morning on their bail application.
In an interview yesterday, AG Kalekeni Kaphale confirmed receiving communication from the IG seeking a legal opinion on the matter following the developments.
He said: “I have just received a letter from the IG asking for my opinion on the matter. I haven’t provided my opinion yet. I will have to carefully and seriously consider all factors before providing my opinion on the matter.”
Kaphale could not indicate when his opinion on the matter would be available, insisting: “I said I have just received the letter and I
will have to look at the matter and provide my legal advice.”
Ironically, the charges levelled against Trapence and Sembereka include operating a non-governmental organisation (NGO) not registered with the NGO Board, Mango Key Populations Network run by Sembereka and alleged abuse of K7.4 million on a project funded by UNAids.
In an interview yesterday, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said the police will not make any public pronouncement on the matter because it is in court.
In its letter to the Malawi Government on Wednesday after the arrest of the duo on Tuesday afternoon, the UN office in Malawi said the matter was “amicably resolved” and denied reporting the issue to police.
According to a statement from UNAids headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, UNAids and Mango Network reached a resolution on the issue and that the UN agency did not take any legal action because it believes there was no need for such.
Reads the statement in part: “UNAids respectfully requests the immediate release of the two members of the Mango Network, Mr Gift Trapence and Mr Macdonald Sembereka, from police custody.
“UNAids is strongly supportive of the full empowerment and engagement of civil society organisations in the Aids response.
“It looks forward to continuing its partnership with community and civil society organisations in ensuring that all people affected by HIV have access to HIV prevention, treatment and social support services and that their human rights are protected.”
Amnesty International and other world health and human rights organisations have also appealed for the release of the duo.
In the case, Sembereka is suspected of forgery of official documents, uttering a false document and money laundering and operating an unregistered NGO.
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 it with the NGO Board.
The duo is also co-accused of acquiring K7.4 million for the said workshop on LGBTI and sex workers.
Trapence is executive director of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) while Sembereka serves as the institution’s board chairperson.
Trapence is also deputy chairperson of Human Rights Defenders Coalition, an organistion which has been organising protests to force the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah for presiding over an allegedly flawed electoral process in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.