Malawi human rights lawyer Kasambara detained

Ralph Kasambara, former Attorney-General and lawyer who has brought many of the most recent important human rights or rule of law cases in Malawi to court, has been detained in prison after defending himself from petrol bombers.

In Malawi, perceived critics of the government have become the target of petrol-bombing and arson. In late January 2012 a petrol bomb was thrown inside the vehicle of human rights lawyer Patrick Mpaka, near his Nyambadwe residence in Blantyre. The Malawi Democrat reports that Mpaka escaped when the bomb failed to explode. His attackers subsequenty poured petrol on the vehicle.

Mpaka is the legal representative for Mary Woodworthy, head of Friends of Mulanje Orphanage, in a land dispute with businessman Letson Mulli, who is allied with the President. Woodworthy was arrested and charged with trespass on land which the Malawi Supreme Court had ruled was hers. Government subsequently repossessed the land and allocated it to businessman Dave Kanyoza, who is linked to Mulli.

In September 2011 the house belonging to human rights activist Reverend MacDonald Sembereka was set ablaze with petrol used as accelerant in the eastern regional district of Balaka. A week earlier the Blantyre offices of Rafiq Hajat, a fierce critic of government, were also set ablaze.

Human rights lawyer Kasambara was reportedly tipped off by government insiders of a similar plan to attack him, whereupon he hired additional security guards, who apprehended a group of men allegedly sent to torch Kasambara's offices. The vehicle in which the men were transported was driven by Paulos Chisale, a presidential valet at state house, according to the Nyasa Times.

Kasambara was subsquently arrested on 13th February 2012 on charges of "kidnapping and torturing" three men. Kasambara claimed the men confessed they had been sent by the government to firebomb his office. The government denies Kasambara's accusations. Kasambara denies the charges against him.

Kasambara's arrest came days after weekly newspapers quoted him saying President Bingu wa Mutharika "wants to be a dictator" and should be impeached.

Kasambara has been hospitalized at Mwaiwathu hospital after he fell sick while at Zomba Maximum Security Prison on Friday 17th. He is still under police guard, despite two court orders that he be released on bail.


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