Nsanje-based Eric Aniva who is accused of defiling young girls in ritual cleansing and pleaded guilty in court wants to change his plea for not guilty and engage a lawyer to defend his case, Nyasa Times has learnt.
Aniva is said to have asked to be provided with a lawyer who can represent him in court when trial starts on August 5.
A lawyer said to have been approached to defend Aniva told Nyasa Times that he would need time to go through the evidence and court files to investigate whether the ‘hyena’ had a defence.
When he was arrested upon President Peter Mutharika’s order following a story that was published by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in which Aniva revealed to have been hired to sleep with 104 women and girls, Aniva was charged with defilement contrary to Section 138 of the Penal Code.
However, when the matter came up for hearing on Thursday at Nsanje Magistrates Court, Aniva who confessed being HIV positive was charged with engaging in harmful practices contrary to Section 5 (1-2) of the Gender Equality Act of 2013.
He confessed to defiling young girls and sleeping with widows when he was HIV positive.
Aniva faces a maximum fine of K1 million and five years imprisonment.
The said Section 5 of the Gender Equality Act 2013 reads: “. A person shall not commit, engage in, subject another person to, or encourage the commission of any harmful practice. . Any person who contravenes this Section commits an offence and is liable to a fine of K1 million and five years imprisonment.”
But Aniva, who has since been remanded to Nsanje Prison pending police investigations , wants a lawyer to help him in court.
Lawyer Justine Dzonzi, the chairperson of taxpayer funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), has said it is important to treat Aniva innocent until court prove him guilty after all investigations are done.
“For a solid case to be made, whether it is in his favour or that of his potential victims, the police need to be given space to do their work independently and professionally.
“We know that the public has interest in the case but it is important to know that Mr. Aniva is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law and we are hoping that the police will be able to work beyond and above the hype and views coming from different quarters,” Dzonzi said.
MHRC has since has expressed interest to join the case through joint prosecution or as friends of the court.
“The commission intends to join the case either through joint prosecution or as friends of the court,” MHRC executive secretary Grace Malera.
According to MHRC, there is need for a thorough investigation to ascertain the real events. The issues of knowing his HIV sero-status and deliberately not taking precaution to prevent transmission and his admission of sexual abuse of children are both criminal offences of such a serious nature that the commission is compelled to take up this matter and scale up its engagement to eradicate harmful cultural practices.
Aniva’s arrest followed President Peter Mutharika’s directive to have him prosecuted following a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) story published on July 21 2016 outlining his role as a fisi (hyena) who sleeps with young girls and widows in sexual cleansing rituals.
Ironically, the local media had previously extensively reported on several harmful cultural practices. Several local institutions have also conducted and disseminated research findings on the said cultural practices, but there was never Executive action of such urgency.