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Malawi Captive Will Get Another Shot at Suit

(CN) - A purported "rebel" American can amend claims alleging 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, alleges that he was detained and tortured at various camps for eight years. The captors allegedly confined Kafutwa to a cell, chained him to a wall and beat him.

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

Kafutwa filed suit pro se in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Malawi's solicitor general and secretary for justice on Jan. 9, 2013, 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 granted Kafutwa leave to proceed in forma pauperis and file an amended complaint.

"Although the (sic) 'the TVPA contemplates liability against officers who do not personally execute the torture or extrajudicial killing,' the complaint does not explain how the current Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice are at all responsible for the torture inflicted upon plaintiff from 1969 through 1977," Yohn wrote. "Furthermore, his conclusory allegation that government officials contributed to the death of his wife, without more, does not establish an extrajudicial killing, which is defined by the TVPA as a 'deliberated killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.'"

Yohn found that a 10-year statute of limitations applicable to claims under the TVPA bars Kafutwa's claims for damages.

"The complaint reflects that, as of approximately Jan. 22, 1977, plaintiff knew of the events giving rise to his cause of action," the judge wrote. "However, he did not bring this lawsuit until Jan. 8, 2013, nearly 36 years later. Plaintiff's torture-related claims are therefore time-barred."

Kafutwa can file an amended complaint to cure deficiencies from the original complaint.

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