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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Malawi Captive Given Another Shot at Lawsuit

(CN) - A purported "rebel" American can amend claims that the Malawi government killed his wife and tortured him for eight years, a federal judge ruled.

Laston Kafutwa said the Malawi Government Special Branch in Blantyre, Malawi, arrested him on Jan. 22, 1969, "because he was believed to be a rebel planning to overthrow the government."

Kafutwa, a U.S. citizen, alleged that he was detained and tortured at various camps for eight years. He said the captors kept him chained to a cell wall and beat him.

Special branch officials also "contributed to the death" of Kafutwa's wife and confiscated his property, according to his original complaint.

On Jan. 9, 2013, Kafutwa filed suit pro se in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Malawi's solicitor general and secretary for justice, seeking $10 million for the "violation of [his] rights and freedom" under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) of 1991.

A week later, U.S. District Judge William Yohn authorized Kafutwa to proceed in forma pauperis and amend his complaint, which "failed to describe a basis for the defendants' liability, failed to allege facts establishing an extrajudicial killing, and because it appeared that plaintiff's claims were time-barred."

In his amended complaint, Kafutwa explained that a group called the Young Pioneers - the body guards to the Malawi Congress Party's then president, Kamuzu Banda - would kill suspected state dissidents and take their property.

Kafutwa further alleged that the Young Pioneers beat his wife to death because she visited him while he was detained. Within two weeks of his March 1977 release, Kafutwa claimed to have learned the Young Pioneers were looking to kill him.

Kafutwa eventually won U.S. asylum in 1981, and has since sought monetary compensation to no avail, contacting the Malawian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and submitting a claim to the National Compensation Tribunal in Malawi.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvanie dismissed Kafutwa's amended complaint Tuesday.

"The amended complaint names as defendants the current solicitor general and secretary for justice of Malawi," Judge Yohn wrote. "However, it does not explain how those individuals are at all responsible for the torture inflicted upon plaintiff from 1969 through 1977. To the contrary, it appears that plaintiff seeks to hold those individuals responsible for what happened to him either because they have ignored and/or failed to ensure that he receives relief on his claim for compensation, or because they are current government officials of a country where he previously suffered harm under a different regime. Neither of those grounds establishes that the current solicitor general and secretary for justice of Malawi ordered or participated in plaintiff's torture or his wife's murder. Thus, plaintiff has not stated a claim against the named defendants."

Kafutwa will get another chance to amend his complaint, according to the ruling.

"Plaintiff has already been given an opportunity to file an amended complaint, but the facts alleged, while unfortunate, do not establish a basis for a claim against the named defendants," Yohn wrote. "Nevertheless, plaintiff will be given one more opportunity to amend his complaint in the event that he can state a claim against a defendant who would be liable to him under the TVPA."

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