Anger and tension are slowly mounting over the detention of prominent lawyer Ralph Kasambara at Zomba Maximum Prison with civil society pulling out of the dialogue with government.
Opposition parties are calling on Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika to resign or call for a referendum on his leadership.
In MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commercial city, Blantyre, opposition political parties that included UDF, NRP, Petra, PPM, MDP and Mafunde on Friday held a press conference at Grace Bandawe Conference Centre where they condemned KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s detention in defiance of the court order, granting the lawyer bail.
But presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba said it is not up to the opposition to demand resignation of Mutharika or call for referendum, arguing neutral people should challenge the unconstitutional elements in courts if any.
In MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Lilongwe, civil society organisations (CSOs) on Friday announced that they had walked out of the dialogue meeting at Sunbird Capital in Lilongwe, demanding unconditional release of Kasambara from police custody.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ralph Kasambara should be released immediately, unconditionally and alive. There should be commitment from the Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group (PCDG) that the dialogue process should end by March 28 2012,Ã¢â‚¬Â reads the CSOsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ statement issued at a press conference.
CSOs head of negotiations in the dialogue process, Voice Mhone, said KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arrest is part of persecution of human rights defenders; hence the activists could not be in negotiations with government when their colleague is suffering.
Mhone said they have demanded government commitment to finish the dialogue process by March 28 because the discussions are taking too long to resolve outstanding issues.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is lack of seriousness on the part of government to speed up the dialogue process. At the rate of three out of 20 issues resolved in seven months so far, we would finish the dialogue process in two years time which is unacceptable.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There should [also] be a stop to all harassment, castigation, arrest and confrontational statements from government and its functionaries against CSOs,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Mhone.
He said the CSOs will only be available for the dialogue process once their demands are met before March 28 this year.
In an interview, PCDG chairperson, retired Archbishop Bernard Malango, said his group will meet to decide the way forward on the matter.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I will not comment on that. At least we have heard their concerns. We have met today [Friday] and we will meet again to look at the way forward,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Malango.
NRPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Gwanda Chakuamba declared he has come out from his cocoon to fight Ã¢â‚¬Å“MutharikaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dictatorship regime to the end.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where Ralph is, is where I spent 13 years, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m thrown back there today because of the fight we have embarked on,Ã¢â‚¬Â Chakuamba said.
The veteran politician said they will not allow the DPP government to flout the Constitution, warning government, he is out for good to fight the Ã¢â‚¬Å“autocratic government.Ã¢â‚¬Â
PPM president Mark Katsonga Phiri called for DPP governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s resignation or challenged them to call for referendum for failing Malawians.
Katsonga said they were recording incident by incident the DPP government is committing, warning they will be held accountable.
UDFÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Dr George Nga Mtafu supported Katsonga, calling on Mutharika to resign, claiming there was no trust from people in the government which is acting with impunity.
Mtafu called Malawians to rise up and demand what belongs to themÃ¢â‚¬â€democratic Malawi.
The parties demanded KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s release in 24 hours, warning if not released, the parties have planned activities from now to March 3.
Katsonga Phiri said March 3, which is Martyrs Day in remembrance of those who lost their lives fighting for freedom and independence, is symbolic in Malawi politics.
Petra president Kamuzu Chibambo, reading from a prepared statement, said KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s detention was a clear action by the Executive to usurp Judiciary power and marks a resurgence of the notorious detention without trial.
Chibambo said government should have arrested the alleged assassins against whom Kasambara was defending himself but claimed it has instead accorded them VIP treatment at a private hospital in Blantyre.
He warned that MutharikaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s government will be held accountable if anything unnatural happens to Kasambara.
But Ntaba claimed the opposition parties have always wanted to be in government but they know they have no clout and are busy fighting each other for positions within their parties.
The presidential spokesperson said government has not failed and the opposition cannot determine that.
He argued people can only call for the PresidentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s resignation or call for referendum if a competent court establishes there are sufficient grounds. He accused the opposition of plotting to take over government not through the legal process of ballot.
But Ntaba declined to comment on KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s detention, saying that is being handled by the court and police.
Other politicians at the conference included UDFÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Friday Jumbe, Humphrey Mvula, Sam Mpasu, PPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Malani Mtonga and MDPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Kamlepo Kalua.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Kasambara has been thrown into CC (Condemned Criminals) section at Zomba Maximum Security Prison.
This is a section where convicts on a death row are kept.
Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Evance Phiri confirmed in an interview that Kasambara is being kept at this section to ensure he is comfortable.
Phiri said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“True, this is a section where condemned criminals are kept, but we have done this to make sure he is comfortable. You know with the ongoing Judiciary strike, the prison is congested, and it is only this section where there are few prisoners.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sources at the prison disclosed there were 32 inmates in this section, and with Kasambara, they are 33 now.
Phiri also dismissed as untrue rumours making rounds that inmates at Zomba were refusing to work in protest against KasambaraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s detention, saying the situation was normal.
But police on Friday in Zomba dispersed people who wanted to hold a vigil in solidarity with Kasambara at the prison and ordered them to move their cars.
Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (Ccasu) acting president Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula argued with the law enforcers that she had a right to stand anywhere she wanted after visiting Kasambara.
Kabwila-Kapasula said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have just visited him and decided to camp outside the fence, police is saying no. What is their problem? I have a right to stand here.Ã¢â‚¬Â