Police in Mzuzu on Monday set free 14 National Registration Bureau (NRB) officers arrested on Sunday on orders from Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia.
The 14, who were charged with unlawful assembly and conspiracy to commit a felony, were granted police bail after spending a night in cell at Mzuzu Police Station.
Initially, the group was scheduled to appear before court on Monday, but police decided to release them on bail.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya said in an interview there were issues the police still needed to investigate; hence, they could not continue keeping the suspects in custody.
He said police bail is also a constitutional right and the police granted it to the suspects in line with the Constitution.
Said Kalaya: “They have been formally charged and they were told here at police what offences they were charged with. Since they have been formally charged, we decided to release them on bail because it is their constitutional right.”
Their release sparked jubilation outside Mzuzu Police Station as their colleagues celebrated their freedom.
The excited NRB officers held an impromptu march and chants before police stopped them with a warning that they risked a fresh arrest if they continued with their conduct.
The arrest of the 14 led their colleagues to put down tools in protest, frustrating the national registration exercise in the city.
NRB spokesperson Norman Fulatira said the bureau was heavily affected by the arrests and some senior officers from the bureau were on the ground pushing for the release of the 14 to normalize the situation.
He said: “Definitely, we have been affected and our officers are at Mzuzu Police trying to push for release of our staff. Things should come back to normal once that has been done.”
Mzuzu-based youth rights activist Charles Kajoloweka, who traded barbs with Chiumia on Sunday over the arrests of the NRB officials, said the minister was too excited with her ministerial position.
He said the minister should be held accountable for the arrests which are a direct attack on democracy.
Said Kajoloweka: “She is abusing the police. The arrests were senseless and baseless. Instead of hearing out the youth, she was there victimising them.”
He also called on police to act independently saying if they keep following such orders, people will lose confidence in them.
Efforts to talk to Chiumia on Monday proved futile as several calls to her mobile phone went unanswered.
The 14 were arrested on Sunday after Chiumia, accompanied by armed police officers, allegedly ambushed a meeting they were holding in Mzuzu to demand arrears dating back to May 2017.
The minister is alleged to have been tipped off about the meeting that was being held at Shoprite premises in Mzuzu on Sunday. After hearing about the meeting, Chiumia went undercover to establish what was being discussed. n