Acting president of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peter Mutharika, and nine others who are accused of treason yesterday walked to freedom to the jubilation of hundreds of their party followers.
Presiding judge Ivy Kamanga was in favour of bail for the accused, who have spent three nights under police custody, after a fierce legal battle between prosecution and defence lawyers that lasted for most part of the morning yesterday.
The other nine freed suspects are former cabinet ministers Henry Mussa, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Nicholas Dausi, Patricia Kaliati, interdicted Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka, former Deputy Chief Secretary Necton Mhura, DPP vice president Jean Kalirani and incumbent Economic and Planning Minister Goodall Gondwe.
The accused were granted bail on condition that they surrender travel documents and report to a police commissioner every Friday of the fortnight and deposit K250,000 sureties each in cash.
Judge Kamanga premised her ruling on the failure of the state to demonstrate that if granted bail, the accused would interfere with on-going investigations into their cases, owing to their positions of influence.
"The state failed to demonstrate that the applicant will use their positions of power and influence to interfere with the administration of justice or investigations.
"There is also no demonstration that upon their release they will continue having the same positions of power and influence," she observed.
She said despite the charges being serious and grave, the court would not deny the accused bail as there was no proof that doing so would jeopardise investigations into what is still in mere allegation.
Earlier, government lawyers led by Mhone objected to the court granting the accused bail, arguing that the nature of the offence they are alleged to have committed— treason, incitement of mutiny and conspiracy to commit a felony— among other charges, were serious.
"These offences... would have disturbed the constitutional order of this country. It would be important to take into account that it was democracy which was at stake at that particular time," Mhone told a jam-packed court.
Elaborating grounds of objection presented in an affidavit by Commissioner of Police Nelson Bophani, Mhone said there were indications that following detention of the eight at Lumbadzi Police Station in Lilongwe, some of the accused may have been linked to the violence that was witnessed.
Mhone was reacting to submissions by defence lawyers Allan Chinula and Kalekeni Kaphale who, among other things, argued that by continuing detaining the accused, the criminal justice system was being turned "into a criminal persecution" and that the constitutional 48-hour rule was now over.
"It is the accused persons standing trial and not their supporters. The right to bail is, in a way intricately, connected to the right to liberty. The accused, in so far as they are presumed innocent, are entitled to their liberty," Chinula observed.
It actually transpired in court that a docket which violent DPP supporters snatched away from Assistant Commissioner Mr Gumbo, who is Director of Criminal Investigations Department in the Central Region at Lumbadzi Police Station, was handed back to the authorities by one of the defence lawyers who was present in court.
Mhone told the court he raised this to demonstrate that there is evidence there could have been communication between the accused persons and the angry and violent sympathisers outside.
While maintaining objection to the application for bail, Mhone told the court that should its decision be to the contrary, there was need to consider the accused persons be put under house arrest in one place of their choice, report to police three times in a week, be restricted to three visitors at a time (except for their lawyers) and surrender travel documents (personal and in-service).
But Kaphale argued that the conditions for bail proposed were "stringent" and tantamount to denial of the application.