The Government of Malawi has ignored calls to rescue a Malawian citizen (name withheld) currently detained in South Sudan’s Juba Central Prison where he is allegedly being tortured by the notorious National Security Service (NSS).
The Malawian national has been in prison for about 15 months on allegations that he misappropriated funds for his company – just five months after been recruited.
Concerned with reports of torture Amnesty International (AI) wrote the two governments; Malawi and South Sudan demanding a probe into allegations of torture and to ensure that the suspect is accorded speedy trial as his long detention amounts to human rights violation.
Both Malawi and South Sudan have not responded to Amnesty International’s call to investigate the matter neither is there speedy trial.
The Malawian was arrested in October 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda in transit to Malawi, on allegations that he misappropriated company funds amounting to $730 000 (over K500 million). He denies the charges.
The suspect was working as finance manager for an oil company—Trinity Energy Limited—which has another Malawian, former chief executive officer for National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Robert Mdeza as chief executive officer.
When contacted, Mdeza confirmed the arrest, but could not respond to further questions, including allegations of torture, saying the matter was in court.
Both the suspect and his lawyer refused to be named, citing security concerns in South Sudan.
The lawyer alleges that his client has been in ill-health due to the torture, which includes beating, starvation and denied access to medical services at the hands of South Sudanese National Security Service (NSS), “to force him admit charges he denies”.
“Throughout the time the suspect has spent in the custody of the NSS, he has reportedly been subjected to beatings. AI is especially concerned about the role of the NSS, whose use of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees has been well documented by AI and other organisations,” said Vongai Chikwanda, AI southern Africa campaigner.
Both United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-Malawi) and AI say they have engaged both governments to ensure speedy trial for the suspect and that allegations of torture are investigated.
Apart from torture, the international rights groups are also concerned that the suspect has appeared in court more than once without meaningful hearing, usually due to excuses from the State.
In one email Ministry of Foreign and International Cooperation legal team indicated that the government of Malawi would send its envoy either from Kenya or Tanzania to visit the suspect in prison and this was last year May but nothing has happened so far.
In another email in November last year, the Ministry apologized to the family that government was unable to send an envoy due to financial challenges.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Rejoice Chaponda is on record to have said government has not intervened yet because it lacks evidence and cannot act on what she called “hearsays”.
“We have advised the family what to do in order to obtain accurate information on this matter and in a manner that does not jeopardise the safety and interest of our citizen who is in detention,” said Chaponda.
While government is in doubt both Amnesty International, whose legal team has been meeting with the suspect, and UNDP Malawi confirm about reports of torture. But reacting to the Malawi Government position, Chikwanda said the allegations of torture are sufficient for a government to ask another government to independently investigate the allegations.
“It is sad that our government does not seem willing to help. Who can help then? We have tried every means to have him tried fairly but nothing is happening so far. Each time he goes to court there is an excuse; one time the state did not turn up for lack of fuel and on another day the judge was reportedly sick and now we are told the judge is on holiday. We are worried of his future under such torturous conditions” said a desperate family member.