Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Regional Governor for the South Noel Masangwi and seven others were on Thursday committed to the High Court and formally charged with murder of Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa last year.
The other seven are DPP Youth Director for the South Lewis Ngalande, boxing promoter Mike Chitenje popularly known as Bangwe 1, Sam Chulu, Police Constable Stanford Horea, Stoni Mwamadi, and Francis Julius and Isaac Osman, popularly known as Ntopwa 1. These last two were arrested earlier in the day.
The suspects first appeared before Magistrate Innocent Nebi. The State through Police prosecutor Mtete told the court that they wanted to formally charge the suspects within the stipulated 48 hours and commit them to the High Court which handles murder cases.
But the defence team, which comprised lawyers Chancy Gondwe and Bob Chimkango and Kalekeni Kaphale in absentia, objected to the State’s stand as they said it was unprocedural.
Gondwe told the court that the normal procedure was for the State to either get a certificate of consent from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or allow the court to make a preliminary inquiry to establish whether the matter really deserved to be committed to the High Court.
But Mtete, in response, told the court that the State was merely complying with the provision that suspects should be charged within 48 hours, adding the rest would be done later.
Gondwe, however, argued that the law doesn’t allow the accused to be committed to the High Court without subjecting it to a preliminary inquiry or certificate from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“Failure by the State to satisfy these provisions is a clear indication that the State is not ready and it is my prayer the court should discharge the accused until such a time when the State will be ready.”
After adjourning the session for about 20 minutes preparing a ruling on the matter, Nebi quashed the defence’s objection and smiled at the State’s prayer.
“My take is that both positions are supported by law. Indeed the law gives two options… [and] it appears that the State is not ready to commit itself the options.
“However, the law does not say that in such circumstances the accused should be discharged. Let them [the accused] be told why they have been arrested and the State should later comply with the procedure,” said Nebi, before he read out the murder charges to the accused.
Responding to Chimkango’s objection that the charge of murder lacked specific particularities so that the accused should understand it well as he said the term “murder” was technical, Nebi said such issues should be raised before the High Court.
Gondwe has since indicated that he would apply for either bail or judicial review of the decision at the High Court as he said the defence was not satisfied with ruling.
There was, however, a bit of drama outside the court when the accused were being brought before the court. Party supporters were dropped at the High Court from a truck and several blue pick -ups .
They were solemn but almost caused a fracas as they attempted to enter inside the fence of the Court premises. The Court officials did not allow those in party colours to enter the premises however a large number of supporters in ordinary clothes scrambled to get into the Court Hall, breaking glasses of the main door of the Court. Most of these supporters were not allowed inside the court and remained outside, Further outside the fence men and women spoke in low tonnes as the waited to hear the news from the court.
‘The law allows bail and these people will be out on bail’ some could be heard discussing as the court was in session.