Malawi dissident ready to risk death

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The Independent Online
LUSAKA (AP) - The freed opposition leader, Chakufwa Chihana, yesterday said he would continue campaigning for democracy in Malawi even if it meant a death-sentence for sedition.

'Many people have died for democracy in this country. Why should I be spared?' he said in a telephone interview. 'My death will hasten the demise of the one-party state.'

Mr Chihana, 52, head of the opposition Democratic Alliance, was released on bail on Saturday after being held for three months without charge. He was arrested on 6 April when he returned home from a conference in Zambia at which he called for a pro-democracy congress in Malawi.

The government has been widely accused of human rights abuses, including the torture, detention and assassination of its opponents.

Speaking from his attorney's home in the southern city of Blantyre, Mr Chihana said he was kept in solitary confinement and denied reading material in prison. He was locked in leg irons for more than a month and repeatedly interrogated, he said. 'I heard no news from the outside world. Being in prison is like being sealed in a bottle. You hear nothing,' said Mr Chihana.

In May at least 22 people were killed in riots provoked by the government's failure to bring Mr Chihana to court.

Judge James Kalaile granted Mr Chihana bail of pounds 1,300 on Friday and ordered him to appear in court today in Zomba, where he is expected to be formally charged with sedition.