Malawi Congress Party(MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera has vowed to defy President Peter Mutharika's threats to use force to crash protests at State House, saying he will lead his supporters in the march if Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and the group's chairperson for the Central Region Macdonald Sembereka will not be released in the next 48 hours.
The two human rights activists were arrested in Lilongwe last evening barely hours after President Mutharika warned HRDC that both the police and army will use "full force" to stop them from holding demonstrations at State House.
Trapence and Sembereka spent a night at Blantyre Police Station and Ndirande Police Station, respectively, following their arrest.
But in a statement released Monday and made available to Nyasa Times by MCP, Chakwera, who together with UTM Party president ans State vice-president Saulos Chilima, -- secured the landmark judgement by the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election on February 3 2020-- is accusing President Mutharika of openly instigating a crackdown on civil society leaders who were a the forefront of protests and legal action to challenge his election.
HRDC announced last week that it was planning a "citizen's electoral justice march" to the State House on 25 March to force President Mutharika to assent to the electoral bills and appoint new Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners to manage fresh elections.
But Mutharika who called the HRDC a "terrorist network" warned the coalition that both the police and army will use "full force" to stop them from holding demonstrations at State House.
In his statement, Chakwera accused President Mutharika of being in breach of "several provisions of the Constitution" by ordering the "spurious arrests" of human rights defenders from the platform of the political party's rally.
Chakwera has demanded that President Mutharika should release immediately the HRDC members.
"But should he fail to do so within 48 hours, I will personally galvanize all peace-loving ad law-abiding Malawians to march on the State House of which he is a temporary tenant and camp there until theses innocent activist are released," said Chakwera in the statement.
UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga has also joined the chorus of demanding the release of the activist, describing thei arrest as hindrance to democracy.
"Sunday's arrest of the HRDC leadership is the latest evidence of the pitiful levels to which our MPS has been compromised. We have in Malawi a police service which has ceased to serve the public whose taxes sustain its operations and is now at the beck and call of politicians who are living on borrowed time.
"UTM joins all peace loving Malawians in condemning DPP and MPS for their continued acts of impunity. It also demands the immediate and unconditional release of the arrested activists and holds both DPP and MPS responsible for their safety and security," reads in part the statement.
Meanwhile, Malawi Police Service (MPS) in a statement says they are hunting for HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo, whom they claim is on the run, following a warrant of arrest which has been secured.
The statement, signed by national police spokesperson James Kadadzera, says the warrant of arrest for the three was secured following a press briefing last week where the HRDC members called on people to seal State Residences.
Reads the statement in part: "The three suspects are fully aware that Section 103 of the Police Act prohibits any demonstrations or assemblies within a hundred metres from State Residences unless the same have been permitted by the State President.
"This means that no one can seal a State Residence unless they breach the provision of Section 103 of the Police Act."
The statement promises that "the nation will be continuously updated on any development".
Mtambo had planned to surrender himself to the police Monday morning but remains at large.
According to activist Billy Mayaya, the grouping advised Mtambo not to hand himself over to police because it believes the three HRDC leaders did not do anything wrong in planning to hold demonstrations.
Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), based in Johannesburg, has sisnce issued a statment expressing "reasonable apprehension and fear" for the lives of Trapence and Sembereka, pointing out that anything is possible to be done against them while they are detained, including torture, inhuman and other degrading treatment as well as poisoning."