Amnesty, Frontline Defenders ask Malawi to release Kasambara

The arrest and persecution of Ralph Kasambara, a human rights lawyer and former attorney  general, has caught the attention of international watchdogs who  are calling on  Malawian authorities to comply immediately with a court order to free him.

Amnesty International and Ireland based FrontLine Defenders have issued statements calling on the release of Kasambara.

FrontLine Defenders  said it believes that the attempted attack against  Kasambara is directly related to his work as a human rights lawyer and his support to civil society organisations.

“We express deep concern at the attempted raid on his offices and the fact the perpetrators were carrying petrol bombs. These events remind the two arson attacks carried out in August 2011 against the home and office of human rights defenders MacDonald Sembereka and Rafiq Hajat. It is deplorable that no investigation has been opened on the attempted attack,” Frontline said in a statement.

Kasambara: Prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International said  the rearrest of Kasambara “indicates the Malawian authorities are willing blatantly to flout the law when it comes to dissenting voices.”

Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s Deputy Program Director for Africa said:  “Such disregard for the judicial process is an alarming sign for the human rights of perceived critics of the government in Malawi, suggesting that the authorities are willing to stop at nothing to silence their critics.”

Kutukwa added:“It would appear the authorities are pulling out all stops to ensure Ralph Kasambara remains in custody.”

Raid

On 13 February 2012, at approximately, a group of five individuals attempted to raid Kasambara’s office in the Magalasi area in Blantyre. The individuals had reportedly earlier asked local women selling their wares near the office what type of car Kasambara drove.

The women subsequently informed Ralph Kasambara of the presence of the individuals, giving him an opportunity to alert his security guards. When the individuals eventually entered the premises, the guards apprehended three of them, while two managed to escape.

A petrol bomb was found in their possession. The three men reportedly admitted that they had been sent by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on instructions to destroy the offices and to cause harm to Kasambara.

Shortly thereafter, the police arrived at Kasambara’s office stating they had received information according to which the lawyer had kidnapped three individuals. Some police officers left with the attackers, while others arrested Kasambara along with security guards Arthur Chikankheni, Mayamiko Kadango, Brian Magoya, Patrick Gadama and Ali Kaka. All men have been charged with assault occasioning bodily harm.

The following day, 14 February, a court ordered Kasambara’s release on bail on conditions of payment of K20,000 cash and a surety of MK50,000 with the obligation to report to the police headquarters of the Southern region every Friday.

Despite the court order, prison officials at Chichiri prison refused to release Ralph Kasambara on grounds that the court order had arrived too late in the day. He therefore spent a second night in detention.

Politically motivated

Following the arrest, government spokesperson and Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati stated that the government had information according to which Kasambara and the security guards were attempting to sexually abuse the three individuals they had stopped.

The former Attorney General  has been subjected to acts of harassment and intimidation in the past. Most recently, in January 2012, he was summoned by Southern Region Police Commissioner for allegedly inciting ‘disaffection for the President’ through its support for a strike within the judiciary.

Kasambara believes the case is politically motivated. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, and last Saturday gave a newspaper interview  calling for the President to resign or face impeachement.

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