On March 10, police arrested Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Timothy Mtambo on allegation that alongside his vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and executive member the Reverend MacDonald Sembereka were inciting people to close State residences in a bid to force President Peter Mutharika to assent to electoral reform bills. Trapence and Sembereka were arrested earlier on the same charge. Our staff writer EDWIN NYIRONGO asked MTAMBO to tell us about the arrest. Excerpts:
How did you know that police wanted to arrest you?
It was difficult to know because no warrant of arrest was presented to me. Not even a call from the police telling me that they are looking for me. I just heard that [Trapence and Sembereka] had been picked, but I never saw any warrant of arrest. The police never came to my house nor went to my workplace.
When you are looking for someone, there are two places you need to check because this person is either at home or workplace. So they never came. I just heard about the warrant in the social media. I then asked our lawyers that I should handover myself, but I was also properly advised to say that I should wait. The lawyers advised that we should first make an application to the court because we saw that they were not doing the arrest in good faith.
What evidence do you have to back your claim that the arrest was not in good faith?
If they were in good faith, they shouldn’t have taken the other comrades [Trapence and Sembereka] to Blantyre, yet police headquarters is here, their families are here, everything is here, including the alleged crime itself. I don’t believe we committed a crime because whatever we do, we do it within the confinements of the law. So there was no need to take the comrades to Blantyre.
Were you scared of the impending arrest?
Never fear anything. I was not afraid of anything and I am not afraid of anybody because I know my conscience is clear and I have not committed any crime. I believe in justice and the rule of law. When the law enforcement agents are looking for me, I will always be there to present myself because I am a law-abiding citizen. So I was not scared, but I was just surprised because I did not know the crime I committed.
I do not think going to the State House to demand accountability from your leader is a crime. The State House belongs to us and if they choose to misinterpret ‘shutdown’, it’s up to them. They have their own definition, but what I know is that our objective was to go to present our concerns to the President. So if protesting or going to present concerns to a leader has become a crime, then we are yet to hear.
Some people are suggesting that you went into hiding for fear, what do you make of this claim?
Those were malicious allegations by some DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] cadets. The truth of the matter is that I was not in hiding. There was no reason for me to hide. If Police wanted to arrest me, they knew where to find me. However, since rumours of the warrant of arrest started making rounds on social media, no police officer visited my home or my workplace to serve me with the alleged warrant. If police had bothered to come to my home or workplace, they would have found me, but they did not.
What were your police cell conditions?
What I can say is that I slept well. The conditions were a bit bad in the police cell, but I chose to remain with the comrades, young people that are there and everybody knew me. When I got into the police cell, young people celebrated. Everyone was chanting ‘boma, boma, boma!’
I refused to be isolated. I wanted to experience the pain that our brothers are facing. So I slept right in the middle of comrades. And the people in the cells said ‘you have showed us that you are humble, that you are truly fighting for our rights. You wanted to feel the pain that we feel. So the conditions are bad in the cell, you know there are mosquitoes, bed bugs and other things. But I had to go through that because it was important that I should be with the people.
From the interaction with people in police cells and prisons, what information did you get about current politics?
It is clear that people are frustrated. We have politics of victimisation and the economic situation is pathetic. Most of the kids we found in prisons are there on very petty crimes like stealing food, stealing a simple phone like ‘mose wa lero’ others were arrested for participating in demonstrations, yet those committing big crimes like corruption are out there. So it tells you that we have a government full of impunity and people in prisons, even in cells, don’t like the government because of such things. We have people in prison who have stayed for a long time on petty cases. And some have never even been presented to the court. So this speaks volumes of the kind of government we have in this country. We know justice delayed is justice denied. So it was a blessing that some of us went there to have primary experience so that we can stand up for their rights.