Malawiâ€™s former president Bakili Muluzi has cautioned President Bingu wa Mutharika against using police to intimidate perceived political opponents, saying it is affecting the respect Malawians have for the service.
Speaking in an interview Â on Friday from Cape Town, South Africa, the former president called for unconditional release of his son Atupele, calling his continued detention as â€œillegal, unlawful and political persecution.â€
Muluzi said he was very disappointed with the turn of events 18 years into multiparty democracy, saying instead of providing transition to the young generation, Mutharika was imparting wrong image of democracy to the youth.
â€œWe are on a very dangerous path. Police should not be allowed to become partisan or be used as agents of DPP against perceived opponents, this is not what people like I and Chakufwa Chihana fought for,â€ said Muluzi.
â€˜Atupele is political prisonerâ€™
He said the detention of Atupele was against the constitutionally allowed 48 hours, saying it was in the interest of government to be seen as following the rule of law and not an aggressor of law.
â€œI am demanding that Atupele should be released forthwith….. He has become a political prisoner now. The police are holding him illegally and without any law backing them. That is unfortunate in a democracy,â€ said Muluzi.
The former Head of State said he met his doctors on Wednesday and he has been allowed to travel back for two weeks only to attend to Atupeleâ€™s arrest, but he will be required to return to continue treatment.
â€œI will come home tomorrow [Saturday] and it is my prayer that government realises the damage they are causing to the image of Malawi with these arbitrary arrests,â€ said Muluzi.
As of Friday afternoon, Atupeleâ€™s lawyer Jai Banda was still negotiating with the police to get bail.
He was at National Police Headquarters by 10 am with colleague Kalekeni Kaphale who late in the afternoon on Thursday indicated that Atupele had been released on bail and was quoted by The Nation and Nation Online. He later called on Friday evening, when The Nation had already gone to bed, to say the police were waiting for special clearance from Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito.
Presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba said he could not comment on Muluziâ€™s assertions as it was a police matter while National Police spokesperson Dave Chingwalu also said he could not comment.
Muluzi ruled this country for 10 years from 1994 to 2004. During his second five-year term of office, there were also pockets of violence against critics, and some also lost their lives.
Atupeleâ€™s condition, according to family members, had improved though doctors recommended his continued stay in hospital for observation.
â€˜Human rights deterioratingâ€™
Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch has condemned government for arresting Atupele, saying it signals increasing deterioration of government stand on human rights.
In a statement released Friday, the international human rights body called for an urgent end to a crackdown on critics of Mutharika and restraint by police in handling protests.
Atupele was arrested at Bunda Turn-Off Roadblock in Malawiâ€™s capital, Lilongwe, on Tuesday for allegedly inciting violence at a UDF rally in Lilongweâ€™s Area 24 on Sunday where police clashed with residents after they stopped the rally.
â€œArresting government critics is just the latest sign of increasing repression in Malawi. President Mutharika should take urgent steps to end the harassment and arrests of people seen as opposing the government. Malawi arrests signal deteriorating rights environment.
â€œThe Malawi Governmentâ€™s recent surge of arrests and threats against critics reflects its broader crackdown on free speech and other basic rightsâ€ reads the statement from the bodyâ€™s Africa deputy director Leslie Lefkow.
Human Rights Watch says it was concerned that Atupeleâ€™s arrest follows that of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) chairperson and Mutharikaâ€™s fierce critic John Kapito and recent State Houseâ€™s statement warning journalists and human rights activists against insulting the President.
â€œOn March 21, police arrested Atupele Muluzi, a prominent member of the opposition UDF and son of former president Bakili Muluzi, and charged him with inciting violence.
â€œThree days earlier, police and party supporters engaged in violent clashes at a party rally in Lilongwe, which Muluzi had been scheduled to address. Local civil society activists believe the charges against Muluzi are politically motivated,â€ adds the statement.
On Sunday, several people sustained injuries while an angry mob burnt down a police unit during clashes with police at Area 24. On Wednesday, several youths also blocked the Paul Kagame Highway in protest against Atupeleâ€™s arrest and later clashed with police in town, leading to the closure of shops.
â€œSeveral human rights activists have been arbitrarily arrested while others have received death threats and been forced to go into hiding. There have been several firebomb attacks by unidentified assailants at the homes and offices of government critics,â€ adds Lefkowâ€™s statement.
â€˜Malawi Government intolerant of any dissentâ€™
Human Rights Watch has also appealed to other governments in the world to condemn Mutharikaâ€™s administration for its continued crackdown against its critics.
â€œThe Malawi Governmentâ€™s increasing intolerance of any dissent should be strongly condemned by concerned governments,â€ said Lefkow.
Recently, police also arrested lawyer Ralph Kasambara, accusing him of assaulting three men. Kasambara alleged the men were sent by government to assassinate him and petrol-bomb his offices in Blantyre.
Human Rights Watch is one of the worldâ€™s leading organisations that work to defend and protect human rights.
Atupele moved to Mwaiwathu
Atupele was on Friday rushed to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Blantyre from City Centre Clinic in Lilongwe where he was admitted on Wednesday.
UDF deputy publicity secretary Ken Ndanga said Atupele was moved to Mwaiwathu because his condition required better medical facilities.
â€œHe is being moved to Mwaiwathu Hospital because the condition he is in requires better medical facilities. We are in a police escort,â€ said Ndanga who was on the trip to Blantyre.
He said more than 11 vehicles for police, Atupeleâ€™s relatives, friends and sympathisers were on the convoy taking the former presidentâ€™s son to Blantyre.
One of Atupeleâ€™s lawyers Jai Banda also confirmed the transfer of Muluziâ€™s son to Mwaiwathu Hospital.
Banda, however, said they were still working on negotiations to secure bail for Atupele.