Inspector General (IG) of Police Lexten Kachama on Wednesday defended the arrests of three opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) officials—Ulemu Msungama, Jessie Kabwila and Peter Chakhwantha.
At an impromptu press conference in Lilongwe, which Kachama said was aimed at clearing the mist surrounding the trio’s arrests and charges, the IG said the arrests were not politically motivated and were not influenced by anybody.
Police arrested MCP executive member Msungama on Sunday, publicity secretary Kabwila on Monday and party youth committee leader Chakhwantha on Tuesday over a WhatsApp discussion that the police initially said were seditious, but later claimed were treasonous.
Kabwila and Chakhwantha are parliamentarians for Salima North-West and Lilongwe South-West respectively. The three have all been released on police bail.
Kachama contradicted national police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa who had on Monday and Tuesday said the three are facing treason charges. The IG said the trio was only called for a caution statement, not arrest.
He said police are currently conducting further investigations into the matter to establish “the authenticity of the allegations,” that were provided to police by well-wishers.
Kachama could not say how private conversations were sourced and ended up in police hands as actionable information.
“The three people have not been charged with treason, but they gave caution statements on treason charges. Treason is a high-level criminal offence and must, therefore, be treated as such.
“As police, our job is to maintain order and if there is anything that infringes on this has to be acted on and that is why we [arrested them]. We have not been sent by any political party,” Kachama said.
The police chief stressed that the only way of putting a leader in office is through the ballot, and not any other means that can destabilise the country.
Kachama could not conclusively assure the media on whether the police have information beyond reasonable doubt that the three were planning to take over government, but said police plan to question “another suspect” on the matter.
“There is also another person whom I cannot mention for fear of putting the case in jeopardy, he too will be questioned, but let me stress that the three were not formally charged. We took caution statements,” he said.
Kachama also said the police do not care whether the three might sue them in the event police fail to prove beyond reasonable doubt they tried to take over government.
“What matters right now is the safety of the Malawian people and this government. We cannot worry about what tomorrow will bring,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) accused the police of disregarding the law on the arrests.
MLS also faulted bail conditions granted by police, saying according to Bail Guidelines Act, police cannot grant bail to a person charged with serious offenses like treason.
The arrests have caused outrage from the opposition parties in Parliament, currently meeting for the Mid-term Budget Review.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Msowoya called for an early adjournment of the House over security concerns.
But Parliament resumed Wednesday morning.