Mbilinyi and CHADEMA’s Southern Highland Zone secretary Emmanuel Masonga – who was also released yesterday - were serving a five-month jail sentence imposed in February for uttering ‘bad words’ against President John Magufuli at a political rally.
The prison authorities put in some effort to ensure they were released quietly with little fanfare, despite the presence of CHADEMA national chairman Freeman Mbowe, several of the party’s other MPs, and wives Happy Msonge (Mbilinyi) and Grace Mallya (Masonga) at the prison gate.
Both were dressed in jeans and similar light blue T-shirts with the words ‘Free Sugu and Masonga’ written across the front and ‘Stand For Democracy’ on the back.
Speaking from his home in Ituha suburb on the outskirts of Mbeya municipality, Mbilinyi said they were not given prior notice of their impending release yesterday morning, but simply told to get ready and leave at around 7 am.
According to deputy commissioner general of prisons Paul Kijida, the release was based on President Magufuli’s blanket pardon issued during the 54th Union anniversary celebrations on April 26.
The presidential pardon covered a total of 3,319 prisoners countrywide, 585 of whom were released on the same day.
Special Seats MP Sophia Mwakagenda (CHADEMA) described the MP’s release as a boost for the opposition camp in parliament where his contributions have been conspicuously missed.
Mbowe and other party leaders later also visited Mbilinyi at his residence where they held talks.
According to the CHADEMA chairman, Mbilinyi was intending first and foremost to visit his ailing mother at Mbeya Referral Hospital where she has been admitted for the past three weeks.
Her ailment was triggered following her son’s “unjust” imprisonment, Mbowe said.
He explained that he, several of the party’s other MPs, and the prisoners’ wives Happy Msonge (Mbilinyi) and Grace Mallya (Masonga) were at the prison gate from as early as 7 am yesterday to welcome the duo back into the free world.
However, while they were still standing outside the front gate, they were informed that the two released men were already on their way home.
They had been convicted of committing the offence of uttering hate speech targeting the head of state during a public rally they addressed at the Mwenge Primary School grounds in Mbeya on December 30 last year.
Mbilinyi is the second high-profile opposition politician to be sentenced to serve a jail term since President Magufuli took office in 2015.
Kilombero MP Peter Lijualikali, also of CHADEMA, was sentenced to six months in jail in January 2017 for causing chaos during the 2015 election.