* Articles can instigate public anger against him and could also result in violent mob action
* Can lead to loss of business for Batatawal’s companies impacting on his constitutional right to economic activity
By Duncan Mlanjira
Karim Abdul Batatawala, one of the suspects being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the landmark corruption charges, has demanded a public apology from the Nation Publications over its newspaper and online articles that Batatawala deems to have portrayed him in bad light.
The news article in question alleged that Batatawala tops the list of claims being made by various other claimants and according to the letter from his lawyers — Phoya & Associates — it is aimed at “instigating public anger” against him and could also result in “violent mob action” against himself, members of his family and their property.
“This would definitely carry criminal liability on the part of directors of NPL, it’s editors and concerned reporters,” says the apology demand letter from Phoya & Associates
“Further, the said unprofessional and biased reporting to which you are subjecting our client could (if it has not already happened) lead to our client’s business partners deciding to stop doing business with our client’s companies, thereby impacting our clients constitutional right to economic activity.”
Thus, on strict instructions from Batatala, the lawyers “intend to take legal remedial measures in the courts against NPL if you do not publish an unqualified apology in all your concerned publications within the next seven days” from March 4.
“We further demand that we be allowed to have sight of any such statements of apology on behalf of our client before publication of the same. If there are no steps to comply within the stated period, we shall assume you are unwilling to resolve this matter amicably and we shall proceed with court action without any further recourse to you whatsoever.”
Batatawala also claims that The Nation newspaper article of him topping the claims list did not accord him “the basic right to be heard as journalism standards demand, portrayed him as a corrupt and untrustworthy business man and even as Malawi’s top fraudster”.
This is so because The Nation’s report — as indicated by the lawyers entitled ‘Batatawala Tops Government Claims List’ — displayed an “unfair, malicious and questionable coverage, which is obviously skewed towards denting the image of our client and to some extent, even of us as lawyers who represent him”.
The lawyers claim that the article used a single source of information, the Attorney General Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda and “made no attempt to contact our client or his lawyers on the serious allegations raised in this damaging article”.
“We fail to understand the motive for this. We also wonder if this is an acceptable standard in journalism where an article can pass for publication on an issue concerning two or more parties but where the other parties have not been granted the basic right to be heard.
“The sad part about this is the fact that NPL, it’s editors and reporters know fully well that these are matters that are before the courts of law, where the same AG, who is quoted and given all the space, is party to. Where is the fairness here?
“The claims list at the AGs office, as admitted by the AG himself in the same article, is allegedly too long. Where is the rationale for picking only four claimants and claiming that our client tops the list?
“Our client fully understands that the connotations slotted in this article that the K250 billion that our client is allegedly claiming from government (a widely erroneous figure) would have been enough to carry out projects at the Ministry of Health are designed to make citizens of this country angry and enrage with our client and condemn him without being heard.”
The lawyers also cite page 2 of The Nation’s edition of February 18, 2022 entitled ‘Courts slaps Batatawala’ as a court case concerning his claim for compensation regarding land-related matter which court decided against.
“The High Court delivered its judgement in this matter on 23rd December 2021 and, about two months later, your newspaper seems it fit to run this article at a time our client is appearing in the courts of law on other issues.
“The article was published without even asking our client if he appealed against the judgement or not. Regard being had to the obvious considerable passage of time, the author did not even bother to check if there have been any further developments on the court case or not.
“We deem this as another clear indication of unprofessional malice on your part. We are inclined to believe that someone very calculating and shrewd passed on this court judgement to your newspaper and, most likely, gatekeepers at your newspaper knew exactly what sort of damage to our client’s image this article was going to cause.
“We wish to inform you that the judges presiding over our client’s court cases, being human beings and members of the same society we live in, could very well be swayed by the unprofessional and clearly malicious coverage to which your publications are subjecting our client.
“This is, therefore, a clear infringement of our client’s right to a fair trial as an enshrined in the country’s Constitution.”
Batawalala is involved in the corruption investigations by the ACB together with Zuneth Sattar, Ashok Kumar Streedharan and several of their business associates — in a case that keeps taking twists and turns as Ashok went on to sue ACB Director General Martha Chizuma for defamation.
The defamation case is that when Ashok was granted bail after his arrest, Chizuma divulged confidential information as regards to the corruption investigation in which she accused the Judiciary of having been corrupted for Ashok to be released on bail.
In suing Chizuma, Ashok said her remarks in an audio that went viral on social media portrayed him as “an extremely corrupt person” and that he “corrupted a Judge to have him released from custody”.
This action by Ashok shocked people that led political, economic and social rights activist, Ken Msonda to explosively implore on Malawians to firmly stand up alongside Chizuma.
Msonda, while assuring the public that concerned Malawians have mobilized themselves to protect Chizuma and her office, implored on the legal system not to entertain any alleged corrupt individuals to seek court interventions.
He took cognizance that, yes, the legal counsels are in business and are enticed by huge sums of money to assist these corrupt individuals to defend them, but they should also consider that the money they would eventually be paid for their services is stolen from poor Malawians.
He urged them to apply wisdom and not just legal knowledge even though the law says one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law.
In their 2022 Pastoral Letter read on Sunday, the Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi called on the judiciary for “a workable system of justice for all”, saying “loss of public trust in law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary fuels mob justice, public anger and is a recipe for civil disorder”.
“Our plea is that the Judiciary should always act with integrity guided by the principles that govern this noble profession.”
In celebration of Lent, the Catholic Bishops commemorated the 30th anniversary of ‘Living Our Faith’ Pastoral Letter that was read on March 8, 1992 in which it criticised former President late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s one party state under Malawi Congress Party (MCP) that eventually culminated into the country in a multi-party democracy.
Under ‘New Ills in our Country’, the current Bishops reminded the nation that the 1992 Pastoral Letter drew attention to one important arm of Government — the Judiciary, “which is responsible for the administration of justice”.
“They bemoaned how justice seemed to be aborted by administering selectively to the advantaged and powerful in society.
“In this area, we must applaud the Judiciary which has, on several occasions recently, demonstrated that it is acting with the independence required and expected of it.
“However, as has always been the case, there are unfortunately some whose actions, decisions and judgements threaten to tarnish the image of the judicial system.
“The Judiciary must always remember that it has a key role to play in the administration of justice and especially in the fight against corruption.
“In this regard, we appeal to the Judiciary to ensure that corruption cases are expedited and that everyone is seen to be treated fairly and similarly before the law.
“This builds public confidence that the Judiciary too is playing its role in a constructive way. The Judiciary must avoid making suspicious and questionable judgements and pronouncements which are seen neither to be promoting justice nor fighting corruption.”
The Judiciary is under scrutiny with accusations of being involved in corruption — an allegation it strongly denies — following events that sorrounded the arrest of Ashok, who was later granted bail which the ACB had strongly rejected.
One thought on “Batatawala threatens Nation Publications liable of criminal charges if angry public attacks him in mob justice”
Sounds like blackmail to me
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