STATEMENT By DR YOBERT K. SHAMAPANDE, Concerned senior citizen.
Welcome home HH and the other five brothers! It is truly a travesty of justice for citizens to be locked up for more than four months of torturous, dehumanising imprisonment for a crime they never committed. ..This case has left a blemish on our collective conscience!
Two weeks ago, Director of Public Prosecutions Lillian Siyuni issued a nolle prosequi to terminate the treason charges against Hakainde Hichilema and others because, as everybody knew, government had no evidence. Those were politically manufactured charges intended solely to bully or cow HH into submission over the issues relating to the disputed 2016 elections and potentially debilitate him and the UPND for the 2021 elections. I think that was the fourth or fifth nolle prosequi the DPP has already exercised just this year. Sadly this shows how Zambians have been subjected to reckless arrests, false charges or even wrongful imprisoned only to be set free after enduring such untold suffering. This raises fundamental issues about human and civil rights as well as the meaning of citizenship in this country. Does a Zambian citizen still have any inalienable rights and freedoms that the state is obligated to respect and protect?
In dropping the treason charges, the DPP was cavalier; she did so without expressing any remorse whatsoever for the damage done, pain and anguish inflicted on fellow citizens or for the consequent trauma caused to the nation. And what about the brutal manner in which HH was arrested, bundled from his home in the dead of night that left indelible scars on his children and the entire family? In discharging the accused, presiding Judge Charles Chanda simply stated that “You are hereby discharged of this offence but this is not an acquittal, you can be rearrested.”
Clearly, our laws are broken! I am not a lawyer but a deeply concerned senior citizen about the injustices I see and collapse of political morality in our society. Whatever happened to the once revered principled politics of public service in this country – politics anchored in development, leadership codes, humanism and respect for the rule of law?
We celebrated Zambia’s independence in 1964 in the belief that at long last our gallant freedom fighters had emancipated us from the undemocratic, oppressive colonial laws that promoted conflicts rather than social harmony. It is thus regrettable that some of those repugnant and archaic laws such the Public Order Act still persist. The founders of this Republic consciously shied away from the dark politics of confrontation by focusing on development and nation-building, on socially impactful efforts to uplift the lives of our people from extreme deprivation to the new heights of social progress. That was the enduring promise of our independence.
Therefore we must abhor today’s return to the politics of confrontation and self-preservation whereby those wilding power engage in selective enforcement of laws to exact vengeance against the opponents, muzzle democratic debate, suppress civil freedoms and creative thinking.
Here is my underlying contention: Zambia needs to repeal any objectionable laws such as the Public Order Act, the abusive “nolle prosequi” or defamation laws applied to trump up malicious charges just to victimize opponents and defeat the democratic voices. No citizen of this country, no matter their station in life as a prominent political figure or an ordinary farmer, deserves to be incarcerated without trial under dehumanising prison conditions for a crime he or she did not commit or for expressing views that government loathes.
Thus in this case, I believe justice would have been better served had the presiding Judge dismissed the charges outright, rather than accept DPP’s nolle prosequi, and admonished the prosecutors for bringing such a politically motivated, highly lethal and nonbailable offence without evidence, thereby subjecting innocent citizens to wrongful imprisonment. Further, it is imperative in such matters for the aggrieved citizens of this country to be able to hold their government accountable and liable monetarily and politically for abuse of power. Only that, in my view, would serve as a real deterrent to restrain state power from recklessly intimidating of citizens.
Ironically, the DPP was quick to point to the powers vested in her under Article 180, Cap 187 of our Republican Constitution to justify the dropping of the charges. A fair point. But when the same Constitution under Article 104, Section 3 stating that “When an election petition is filed against the incumbent [President], the Speaker shall perform the Executive functions”, was blatantly violated, nobody defended the Constitution! These are the types of selective enforcements of the law that undermine public confidence in the judicial institutions.
So, what is the way forward? Dialogue in the society about these pressing issues is, of course, an important starting point to reach out to each other and summon the better angels in human nature. But more critically, I believe, we need to mount a frontal effort to repeal oppressive laws and introduce legislative and judicial reforms that help to mitigate conflicts in our society. While at the moment we cannot turn to the present PF Executive to institute favourable judicial reforms, it is incumbent upon the people’s Parliament and other stakeholders of governance to take charge. In the regard, the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Patrick Matibini working together with the Law Association of Zambia, the Human Rights Commission, churches, civil society organizations should lead to initiate legislative measures for repealing such oppressive laws applied by state institutions just to bully innocent citizens.
Ultimately, the moral here is this: The DPP and other constitutional offices as custodians of our democratic experiment and the rule of law should be beyond reproach and never get involved in partisan political battles of any kind.