BY PIJ REPORTER
Pastor Ryan Lilli, a South African cleric who worked at Kondanani Children’s Village, a Bvumbe-based orphanage, has been found with one case to answer by the Midima Magistrate’s Court in Limbe.
Both Lilli’s lawyer Tamando Chokotho and private practice lawyer Chikondi Chijozi, who is prosecuting the case, told PIJ that Lilli has been found with a case to answer on the count of indecent assault.
He was, however, found with no case to answer on the other two counts of rape and having sex with a minor.
“On the charge of rape, the court found that the accused has no case to answer. On the charge of indecent assault, the court found that the accused has a case to answer and on the charge of having sexual intercourse with a minor under one’s care, he was also found with no case to answer.
“So it means that the case has to proceed, and it is up to the accused person to decide whether to remain silent, enter a defence or bring witnesses on the two counts of indecent assault on which he has been found with a case to answer,” Chijozi said.
On his part, Chokotho told PIJ that he needed time to go through the judgment before deciding on the next step.
“Currently, the ruling has not been typed yet, so we have not read the full ruling. Once we read the full ruling, we will make a decision on the way forward,” he said.
Chokotho further noted that although the court found his client with one case to answer, Lilli is still presumed innocent until the court process runs its course.
“Being found with a case to answer does not imply that the person has been found guilty, he still remains presumed innocent. Also, we must note that the court found that no sexual intercourse took place with any of the complaints,” he said.
The case comes for defence on February 25.
A two-month-long investigation by PIJ between October and November last year established an alleged culture of physical and mental abuse at Kondanani Children’s Village, which culminated in a sexual abuse scandal at the institution where Lill (spelt Ryan Lilli in court documents) was accused of sexually abusing two orphans over a period of five years from the time they were 16 years old.
One of the victims regarded the pastor as a father figure after living at Kondanani since birth. But she was eventually banished from the orphanage after the pastor’s wife discovered an affair between the two. In between, the pastor allegedly took away her innocence forcefully, in an abuse of power, and gave her a sexually transmitted disease. Another of the victim alleges she was left with suicidal thoughts after repeated sexual assaults before eventually being expelled from the institution.
In an August 8, 2022 submission to the Midima Resident Magistrate’s Court in Blantyre, the State, represented by private practice lawyer Chikondi Chijozi, charged Lill with four counts: rape, two counts of indecent assault and one count of having sexual intercourse with a minor.
Some victims have spoken to PIJ.
The Pastor Who Allegedly Molested Underage Orphans
In her testimony to the court, one of the victims, a 22-year-old, told the court that the abuse started when Lill took both her and a colleague for a surprise holiday to South Africa in 2017 when she was 17. According to information sourced from Hi5 Tandem Paragliding Cape Town, who hosted Lill on a trip in May 2020, every year Lill and his wife Amy, spoiled some of their children at Kondanani Children’s Village with a holiday trip to Cape Town, South Africa.
The victim told the court that while in South Africa, Lill started acting strange by staring at her and touching her deliberately. When they were in the pool, he would touch her buttocks. Every morning, the Lill would visit her room to watch her while she was awake.
At one point, she woke up in the morning and Lill was holding her in his arms. She recalled that one time, Lill’s wife was sick, and he came to the victim’s room to check if she had bathed. When she said she had not, he forced her to shower, and they fought. She stated that during that fracas, Lill was touching her everywhere and only stopped when she threatened to hurt him. Lill apologised before they came back to Malawi, stating that he acted strangely and was a bad spiritual father.
She further told the court that when they came back to Malawi, Lill initiated a meeting at the house where he promised to take her on trips for rewards. She said that Lill started to take her to the computer room and music room, where they had sexual intercourse in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
She said around this time, Lill’s wife learnt of the affair and told her that she had two options: either tell Kondanani director and founder Annie Chikhwaza or keep the matter a secret. Lill and his wife advised her that her best option was to keep for her own good and if she misbehaved, they would send her to the village, and she would never return to Kondanani.
The same year, the victim started university, and she says Lill came to see her to profess his love for her and took her to a bush where they had intercourse. Later in the year, the victim claims Lill infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.
She told the court Lill said he was feeling itchy and took her to Zomba where he tested for HIV and syphilis. He took medicine for STIs and asked for some for his wife, but he gave it to the victim.
She further informed the court that the accused took her to another hospital, where she tested for syphilis, and he persuaded the nurse to inject the victim with medicine.
The victim explained that the abuse only stopped when Lill finally confessed to his wife. The next day, Chikhwaza summoned her, asked her about the issue and told her that she was being exiled from Kondanani to allow Lill’s wife to heal.
Similar Pattern of Abuse on Second Victim
A second girl, who arrived at Kondanani as a day-old infant 24 years ago also fell victim to Lill’s sexual assaults and recounted her ordeal to PIJ. She said Lill groomed her from an early age, but the sexual abuse started when she was 16.
“It started with him saying that he loves me and that I was beautiful. Looking back, I can say that the sexual abuse started way back, probably when I was sixteen. But for me, I didn’t know much of the world, so I didn’t know that it was something that was wrong,” she said.
The victim, who was also expelled from Kondanani when news of the sexual abuse broke out, says Lill used his power to abuse her.
“To me, it felt like I had no choice, I had to say yes to everything because it felt like he had so much power. In fact, when I protested, he always told me that he is the one who made it possible for me to stay at Kondanani,” she said.
She told PIJ that the ordeal left her traumatised and suicidal.
“But now I feel free that this thing has come out because it was eating me inside and was making me sick. It affected me both physically and mentally because I had swept everything under the carpet for a long time. It was hard. Even now, I am still trying to get a grip on life, but it’s a little hard,” she explained.
Mrs Chikhwaza says ‘no comment’
Although Mrs Chikhwaza declined PIJ’s request for comment, Kondanani Children’s Village later posted a statement on their website accusing PIJ of negative reporting.
“Sadly, there has been some negative reporting about KCV in the local media. The Platform for Investigative Journalism Malawi has accused us of a cover-up, however, this is not true. They have also published incorrect information. The following sets the record straight.
“1. KCV upholds Christian moral values. There is no culture of sexual abuse or racism. 2. Charges of indecent assault were laid against one of our volunteer leaders last year. He was arrested on 4 November 2021 but released on bail and the trial is pending. We cannot comment on the trial, as it is now a matter for the courts. However, we can confirm that person is not a pastor and the allegations do not involve “several underage girls.” This has been incorrectly reported. 3. Kondanani is not trying to cover anything up. The person in question was immediately suspended and has not worked at the orphanage for over a year. 4. KCV is cooperating fully with the authorities. 5. KCV is fully committed to protecting our children according to our safeguarding policy.”