ZOMBA-- Heavily-armed para-military police surrounded the Zomba Maximum Prison Friday as hundreds of lawyers, university students, lecturers and supporters gathered outside the prison to give the detained former Attorney General Ralph Kasambara moral support.
The demonstrators unfurled a banner which read RELEASE KASAMBARA NOW! but were prevented from marching into the prison.
"We are here to show solidarity with our friend," said Dr. Jesse Kabwila-Kapasula, president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union from outside the prison. "We welcome him to the home of academic freedom. We have been here all day."
Kasambara, who clocked a week in prison Friday, was arrested Monday after his associates apprehended a gang of alleged government-sponsored thugs sent to petrol bomb his offices in Blantyre. He has since been charged with assault.
Meanwhile, High Court judge Godfrey Mwase Friday afternoon granted the outspoken lawyer bail. This is the second bail order for Kasambara after the first one granted by the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrates Court was ignored by police and prison authorities. According to police, the bail order couldn’t be respected because it was obtained while courts in Malawi are on strike.
But Zomba High Court clerks, marshals and stenographers delivered the release order to the prison. That notwithstanding by the end of business day Friday it seemed as if the second bail would be ignored as well as police and prison officials were reluctant to comply with the court order.
Dr. Garton Kamchedzera, associate professor of law at Chancellor College who was outside the prison gates by 17hrs GMT, said Kasambara's lawyers were hunkered down inside the prison discussing the bail.
"They are arguing that the court order must be complied with if Malawi respects the rule of law," he said. "We're still out here waiting."
Malawi Law Society (MLS) President John Gift Makhwawa blamed politicians for interfering with the police.
"This is breakdown of rule of law, this is detention without trial, if police and prison were allow to operate professionally they could have respected the court orders," he said.
In a related development, lawyers - under the tutelage of MLS - Thursday night held a crisis meeting to review the situation and, according to Makhwawa, they would issue a statement of their resolutions later.
Kasambara was Pres Bingu wa Mutharika's first Attorney General when he came to power in 2004. The two soon fell out and the outspoken lawyer became the 77-year-old economist-turned-politician's most acerbic critic.
His arrest came fast on the heels of publication of hard-hitting interviews in the press where he called Mutharika "a tin-pot dictator" who must resign or be impeached for incompetence and blatant disregard of the Constitution.
Pres Mutharika's style of governance has made him unpopular in the country. Last July, Malawians took to the streets, accusing Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and restricting rights. Nineteen people were shot dead by police during the demonstrations.
Western multi-lateral donor agencies and governments have also joined the fray by suspending all development aid to the impoverished southern African country. A British diplomat, Fergus Cochraine-Dyet, was expelled from Malawi after a leaked memo to British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Mutharika was "increasingly becoming autocratic and intolerant of criticism".
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment