Prominent civil society organizations (CSOs) – Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Youth and Society (YAS) – have slammed former President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) for accusing President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera of drumming up political propaganda on his alleged involvement in the killing of persons with albinism.
During trial of the murder of MacDonald Masambuka, a man with albinism who hailed from Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkoola in Machinga, two suspects, now convicts, named APM as one of the high profile personalities behind the albino killings syndicate.
Convicted police officer Chikondi Chileka, testifying before Blantyre High Court Judge Dorothy NyaKaunda Kamanga, also implicated Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba, who was mentioned the second time after another suspect Alfred Yohane also named him.
Ntaba’s implication forced Judge Zione Ntaba to recuse herself from the case that was later referred to Judge NyaKaunda Kamanga.
Speaking after the court handed down sentences to the 12 convicted men, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), DPP Dr. Steven Kayuni, in an earlier interview, declared that the battle for justice in the Masambuka murder had not ended as his office is now considering going after Mutharika and Ntaba.
However, Mutharika on Wednesday issued a statement in which he disputed his alleged involvement in the killings of people with albinism.
“As the President at that time, I decided to respond to those allegations by doing two things. Firstly, I set up the Presidential Task Force on issues to do with killings of people living with albinism.
“That Task Force was headed by Dr Hetherwick Ntaba who was my Chief Advisor on Domestic Affairs and included Senior Government officials from relevant Ministries like Justice, Gender and Persons with Disabilities, Health; Traditional Healers Association, the Clergy, the Police and others.
“The Task Force worked tirelessly to come up with measures on protecting people living with albinism as well as addressing their welfare needs. It is unfortunate that Dr Ntaba was targeted for simply accepting to head and direct the work of the Task Force,” reads the statement in part.
Mutharika added that he appointed a Commission of Inquiry to carry out an independent investigation and was expected to complete the work and submit a written report to His Excellency the President by 30th April 2019.
But APM – as he is fondly called by his followers – said the report was not submitted as expected due to unforeseen circumstances.
“The work of the Commission was resumed in May, 2020 and the final report was submitted in June, 2020. It is on record that the Commission of Inquiry completed its work just prior to my leaving office as President.
“My successor, Dr Lazarus Chakwera was presented with the full report of the Commission of Inquiry but for some reason, he has hitherto been unwilling to release the Report. I would like to place it on record that the inquiry was conducted as a response to a public emergency, namely, the killings of people with albinism. It therefore serves no public interest for the President to hide the contents of that report from the public whose right it is to know its contents,” said Mutharika.
He added: “But it seems characteristic of the current Presidency to keep the masses guessing and in the dark regarding matters of public interest. I therefore urge him to release the Report of the Commission of Inquiry.
“I have a copy of the Report but, out of respect for the Presidency, I leave it to him to release it. But if he does not, then I will be compelled to make available to the public.”
But CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa and his YAS counterpart, Charles Kajoloweka, have criticized Mutharika for trying to bring politics into the case.
Kaiyatsa reminded APM that his name was named in court before Chakwera assumed the presidency in June 2022; hence, it was misplaced for Mutharika to accuse the current Head of State of advancing propaganda on killings of persons with albinism.
“It is not right for Prof. Mutharika to accuse the Chakwera administration of using the issue to divert public attention from the issues the country is facing right now.
“Firstly, these issues were raised in court by the convicts when he was Head of State. It is, therefore, only right that Mutharika should respond in the same courts rather than try to clear his name in the public,” said Kaiyatsa on Thursday.
He added: “Secondly, the allegations raised by the convicts against him and Dr Ntaba are extremely serious, they cannot be dismissed as mere propaganda. The best Mutharika can do is to allow an open and thorough investigation into the matter. Whether he and Dr Ntaba are clean or not should be up to the courts to decide.
“The good thing is we have an independent judiciary in Malawi. If he was not involved, the courts will surely clear him. If it is true that the convicts were bribed to implicate him, Mutharika should provide evidence in court.”
On his part, Kajoloweka urged Mutharika to defend himself before a court of law.
He commended the Director of Public Prosecution for taking steps to hold everyone implicated in this heinous crime accountable, stressing that no one should evade accountability or attempt to obstruct justice in the name of the so-called political propaganda or persecution.
“In fact, Mutharika and Ntaba were implicated by suspects when they were in power. Critically, the failure by the State to hold all suspects accountable in the Masambuka case was a serious breach of fundamental constitutional principles of equality and accountability before the law. This breach was clearly established by the Court in its ruling on the case and must be remedied,” said Kajoloweka.
He further said Mutharika’s outbursts regarding political persecution perhaps need a political solution.
“Fortunately, the matter before the DPP is criminal, not political, and everyone implicated should be subjected to an established criminal regime without preferential treatment. As such, except for his call for President Chakwera to make the Enquiry report public, I find his empty outbursts misplaced and frivolous aimed at seeking public sympathy at the expense of accountability and justice,” emphasized Kajoloweka.