Malawiâ€™s former president Bakili Muluzi, furious at the arrest of his son Atupele, is considering cutting short his medical treatment in South Africa and return home.
Muluzi, in an interview from South Africa on Tuesday, argued that the arrest of his son, who is aspiring to lead UDF in the 2014 presidential race, is politically motivated to intimidate the opposition from questioning the â€œdictatorial tendenciesâ€ of the current administration.
Said Muluzi:Â â€œAll I am asking police is not to cause my son any harm. I am considering asking my doctors to allow me leave immediately to attend to this. This is not what we wanted when we fought for democracy in the 1990s.
â€œI will hold the police and government responsible should anything bad happen to my son. I expected our police, who are supposed to be reformed, to act professionally and refrain from being used by government.â€
Atupele was arrested at about 12:30 pm at Bunda Turn-Off Roadblock in Lilongwe, six kilometres from the heart of the city as he was leaving the capital for his base, Blantyre.
â€˜He did not follow procedureâ€™
National police spokesperson Davie Chingwalu confirmed the arrest, saying the Machinga North East parliamentarian was picked after he defied the Lilongwe district commissionerâ€™s (DC) order not to proceed with his rallies in the capital city.
â€œThere is a procedure when one is holding a rally and that is writing to the DC. Atupele did write the DC, but he was told not to go ahead with the rally and postpone it until next week,â€ said Chingwalu.
He said defying the DC is contrary to Section 101 sub-section 1, 2 and 3 of the Police Act.
On Monday, Lilongwe DC Paul Kalilombe said he told UDF not to go ahead with the rally, fearing that the atmosphere at the time could trigger chaos. The rally came barely two days after delegates to the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) conference asked President Bingu wa Mutharika to resign within 60 days or call a referendum on his leadership within 90 days.
Freedom of association
While the countryâ€™s laws stipulate that one has to seek permission from the DC to hold a political rally, the Constitution guarantees freedom of association and assembly.
Section 40 (1) of the Constitution reads: â€œSubject to this Constitution, every person shall have the right (a) to form, to join, to participate in the activities of, and to recruit members for a political party; (b) to campaign for a political party or cause; to participate in peaceful political activity intended to influence the composition and policies of the government and freely to make political choices.â€
In Section 38, the Constitution states that every person shall have the right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed.
Asked why it was Atupele who was arrested and not other party officials, Chingwalu said the deputy leader of UDF in Parliament was the most senior party official at the rally.
Upon his arrest, Atupele was taken to Area 3 Police Station before being transferred to Police Headquarters in Area 30.
Later, he was taken to Kanengo only to be taken back to Area 3 Police before finally being driven to Lumbadzi Police Station where he was still being held as of last evening.
â€˜Police are at liberty to move suspectsâ€™
On the movements from one police station to another and where the law maker is being kept, Chingwalu said: â€œHe is at one of the police stations in Lilongwe being questioned. The police are at liberty to take a suspect to any police station be it in Blantyre or Mzuzu for questioning.â€
Chingwalu also said no bail procedures have started as Muluzi â€œis still being questioned.â€
Atupeleâ€™s arrest follows the burning down of a police unit, a vehicle and a house by alleged UDF supporters during clashes with the police in Lilongweâ€™s Area 24 on Sunday where he held a rally.
It also comes after police arrested prominent human rights activist John Kapito on Sunday for possessing foreign currency on his way to Kamuzu International Airport where he was scheduled to fly to Geneva for a United Nations human rights conference.
The crackdown on a leading opposition voice and a human rights activist also shadows the tightening security in major cities and towns ever since PAC conference.
â€˜Government in panic modeâ€™
Political scientist at University of Malawiâ€™s Chancellor College, associate professor Blessings Chinsinga, said in an interview on Tuesday he cannot rule out politics in the arrest of Kapito and Atupele.
Said Chinsinga: â€œThis shows government is in panic mode because PAC cannot be taken lightly. When PAC speaks, it means things are not right. PAC makes things go the right direction and that is the path it has taken to fight injustices against the young democracy.
â€œYou can see the calibre of delegates that were there. Government is trying to intimidate people through these arbitrary arrests to stop PAC from implementing resolutions made at that all-inclusive conference.â€
Atupeleâ€™s lawyer, Jai Banda, and UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga confirmed the arrest and subsequent developments.
â€œI have just got a call that he has indeed been arrested. So far, I do not know the charge or the grounds. I also do not know whether there was a warrant of arrest and who issued it considering that courts are currently not sitting,â€ said Banda soon after the arrest.
â€˜It was like a Hollywood roadshowâ€™
Ndanga said Atupele was arrested in the company of his family members. He said the officers who arrested him were using a police Toyota Land Cruiser which was parked at the roadblock.
â€œWhen his vehicle was stopped, he was told to get out and after brief discussions, the officers told him to board the police Land Cruiser. He did not resist but, thereafter, it was like a Hollywood roadshow as they drove him from one point to another between Area 3 and Kanengo Police Station,â€ he said.
Soon after Atupele was taken back to Area 3 Police Station at about 1.30 pm, the law enforcers mounted heavy security at the entrance to the station. They cordoned off the area and only allowed vehicles into the premises after thorough scrutiny and searching.
Esnart Phiri, Bakili Muluziâ€™s sister and Atupeleâ€™s aunt, said in an interview at Lumbadzi Police Station that the family is angry with the arrest of her nephew, charging that the persecution they are receiving is too much.
â€˜Persecution of the highest orderâ€™
Said Phiri: “This is persecution of the highest order. Atupele has just been sitting here and the police say they are waiting for orders from above as they are not aware of anything.â€
The Nation later saw head of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Lexa Chalera arriving at the station gates at 16.47 hours.
Several high profile sympathisers, including UDF leader in Parliament Ibrahim Matola and Mangochi North West legislator Alfred Mwachumu were also at Lumbadzi to await a bail decision. Lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale was also there.
â€˜Arrests meant to intimidate UDFâ€™
Meanwhile, at a news conference on Tuesday, senior UDF officials argued that arrests targeting its leadership are meant to intimidate the party to back down from its intended crusade of recruiting members.
UDF treasurer-general George nga Mtafu, who claimed he is among targeted individuals, said the party has information from police sources that its campaign director, trade unionist Austin Kalimanjira, is on the police wanted list.
At the same news conference, the partyâ€™s secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala wondered why the trio are being targeted when the whistle-stop tours in Lilongwe were organised by the party.
According to the letters, the party rescheduled its meeting from Saturday to Sunday to give room to President Bingu wa Mutharika who was at Civo Stadium on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the President, through his spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba, has condemned the violence that occurred at Area 24.-(With reports by Frank Namangale, Bright Sonani, Emmanuel Muwamba and Kondwani Munthali)