Malawi Police on Thursday refused to release prominent lawyer and human rights activist Ralph Kasambara and instead transferred him to Zomba Maximum Security Prison.
And Malawi Law Society (MLS) president John-Gift Mwakhwawa argued the move amounts to detention without trial.
KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s transfer in the afternoon came hours after two of his lawyers, Wapona Kita and Jonathan Kara, were summoned to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to explain how they obtained a court bail from the Blantyre Principal Resident MagistrateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Court despite the ongoing strike by Judiciary support staff which has paralysed the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s justice delivery system for six weeks now.
And in a posting on his wall on the social network platform, Facebook, on Thursday morning, Kita said police refused to accept service of the Release Order for Kasambara despite having demanded it earlier. He said the police argued that with rearrest of Kasambara on Wednesday evening, they needed to reapply for bail for the same offence.
“They [police] have in effect nullified the court bail. We have challenged them and they are now seeking advice from their lawyers. As a matter of fact, there is no legal requirement for the police to demand a Release Order. We are working on alternatives,” wrote Kita before Kasambara was transferred to Zomba.
Mwakhwawa said the ACBÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s action in summoning the two lawyers amounts to harassment and an attempt to instil fear in anyone who may be approached to represent Kasambara.
He also said policeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s continued holding onto Kasambara after he successfully obtained bail is Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdetention without trialÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
Mwakhwawa cautioned that police officers involved in KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s matter would be held personally liable for their actions through the legal process.
Bright Theu, a law lecturer at the University of MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Chancellor College in Zomba, agreed with Mwakhwawa that KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s situation is detention without trial.
Theu observed the police also obtained detention and search warrants from a magistrate, but the ACB has raised no issue on that. He said this is double standards.
Kara said Chichiri Prison authorities in Blantyre told him they had received instructions from police not to release Kasambara.
Southern Region Police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa said the police refused to accept the release order from KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lawyers because they are suspicious that it might have been obtained through corrupt means because courts are not operational.
“How did they manage to get bail? We are very suspicious. We have advised them to restart the bail application [process] again and get a fresh release order because the one they brought was for the earlier arrest. The lawyers know what they are supposed to do,” said Gondwa without commenting on how the police themselves obtained the detention and search warrants from a magistrate.
Kasambara was arrested on Monday alongside Arthur Chikankheni, Mayamiko Kadango, Brian Magoya, Patrick Gadama and Ali Kaka. They were charged with assault occasioning bodily harm on a trio which reportedly attempted to assassinate Kasambara and petrol-bomb his offices and residence in Blantyre.
Kasambara and his associates were released at about 3pm on Wednesday before about 30 armed police officers, in a dramatic turn of events, stormed his house and rearrested him. The other five men were not rearrested.
Upon arrival in Zomba, Kasambara was welcomed by several lecturers from Chancellor College, politicians and well-wishers.
Chancellor College Academic Staff (Ccasu) acting president Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula declared that they have welcomed the activist to “the home of academic freedom.”
She said it is unfortunate that government continues to disrespect the rule of law by openly defying a court order to have Kasambara released.
Kabwila-Kapasula said: “It is worrying that this is happening when we are getting towards elections. Our demand is simple, we want a government that can respect the courts.
“We are not surprised because, as lecturers, we went through the same thing when government did not respect court orders, but we fought the battle and won. We will not leave Ralph alone.”
Political activist Lawrence Bisika said Zomba is ready to take the bull by its horns and would not be demoralised by arbitrary arrests.
He said they will start holding vigils on Friday in solidarity with Kasambara.
Malawi Watch executive director Billy Banda urged the Mutharika administration to act reasonably “for once.” He said no government can rule through intimidation.
Banda also advised the ACB not to allow to be used by government for its sinister motives, arguing it is clear the anti-graft body is not acting independently.
UDF presidential aspirant and MP for Machinga North East Atupele Muluzi said his party is concerned about the developments. He said they are monitoring the situation.