Malawi is quickly sliding into a dictatorship where it is a crime to hold dissenting views to government policy, leaders of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian - Livingstonia Synod, have warned - writes Frank Jomo.
The charges come after the arrest and subsequent release of the synod's General Secretary, the Rev Levi Nyondo.
"We are shocked and surprised that government could stoop so low to arrest a General Secretary of a reputable church," synod moderator the Rev Mezuwa Banda told journalists in the northern region city of Mzuzu.
"Malawi is sliding back to the era of dictatorship and as a church we will not allow this to continue and I don't think this government will survive this," he said.
Nyondo was arrested on 20 August 2010 after speaking at the funeral of former Cabinet minister Moses Chirambo, who died just days after being dismissed from the government.
At the funeral Nyondo had said it was ironic for the government to praise Chirambo after his death, when it had removed him from the Cabinet.
Nyondo said that the government appeared to want the brother of President Bingu wa Mutharika to lead the country after 2014, but the church opposed this and would instead support Vice President Joyce Banda.
Nyondo was charged with sedition for uttering words that could incite public anger and has since been granted bail by the Mzuzu Magistrate Court.
Synod moderator Banda said the arrest of Nyondo would not intimidate the church into submission, but rather invigorate it to preach the truth. He said Joyce Banda, as a sitting vice president, deserves respect and the church will stand by her if she wants to run for the presidency in 2014.
"The vice president is being humiliated by ruling government officials and even our chiefs. Everyone says she can't be president because they want the president's brother to be the next leader. As a church, we have a critical role of delivering a prophetic message of truth. If the church condones wrongdoing, then it loses its salt to the world," said Mezuwa Banda.
The synod's deputy General Secretary, the Rev Maurice Munthali, said Nyondo's detention marked the first time that a top church official had been arrested merely for speaking the truth.
"As a church we can't believe that in 2010 the government can be so naive to arrest a man of God. This is dictatorship at its worst," said Munthali. "Even the first president of this country, who is said to be the worst dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, did not arrest men of God."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]