Lusaka Magistrate Felix Kaoma has condemned the State for detaining some Somalians for over three months as designated State witnesses, saying the action is unacceptable in a country that thrives on the rule of law.

And Magistrate Kaoma has reluctantly adjourned the matter in which Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia president Suzyo Zimba and two Somalis are accused of giving false information to an immigration officer, aiding and abetting entry of 11 Somalis in the country to Friday this week.

In this matter, Zimba is jointly-charged with Egeh Hussein and Omar Mohamud with 13 counts of giving false information to an immigration officer, harbouring a prohibited immigrant and aiding and abetting illegal immigrants.

The three are alleged to have procured immigration visas for 11 Somalis by purporting that they were visiting Zambia to attend an Inter-Cultural Competence Course at Kook College of International Studies, when in fact not.

It is also alleged that the three on the same dates, knowingly aided, abetted and assisted Ifra Hassan, Shafi Haliwo; Abdi Hassan; Mohamud Hassan; Mahad Ibrahim; Ahmed Fara; Abdifatah Yusuf; Ali Fara; Faysal Hassan; Abdishakur Mohamed and Hassan Mohamed, entry and remaining in Zambia.

The accused had denied the charges.

However, when the matter came up on Wednesday for possible commencement of trial, the State applied for an adjournment, saying they were not ready to proceed as their witnesses were not before court, and that other witnesses were in custody.

Geoffrey Mukwasa, the arresting officer, told the Court that he made attempts to serve the summons on the witnesses who were outside, but it seemed that they were scared to be witnesses in the matter.

“I made an attempt to serve the summons to my two witnesses, but I was unable to find them. The first one by the name of Mr Mofya is an employee of Kook College and the other one, Mr Jack Kaale, is one of the shareholders of the same college. When I tried to call them, Mr Mofya was willing, but he did not meet me. To my knowledge, the fact that they are employees of the same college, probably they are scared to be witnesses in this case,” he said.

Mukwasa, however, said he could serve the summons on the two witnesses if he was given another opportunity.

However, the defence lawyer said the two witnesses could not be State witnesses because they were employees of the college that was at the centre of the matter.

The defense added the the said witnesses were theirs, and that the State was better off looking for other witnesses.

“This is the college that invited the Somali nationals, who are in custody and the same Jack Kaale and Mofya are the people that the defence intends to call as witnesses. So, adjourning this matter on the basis that summons must be served on them, physically, will not work. The State is better off looking for other witnesses because the two are our witnesses,” the defence argued.

The defence further complained that the other Somali’s who were in custody were victims of unlawful detention without a charge and had been in detention from as far back as May.

“Like I mentioned last time, if the State is not ready, let them discontinue the case against the accused instead of the accused coming to Court and incurring legal fees! The other Somalians, who are in custody, are being subjected to inhumane treatment,” the defence complained.

But Magistrate Kaoma guided that the State was free to bring any witness they feel was relevant to their case and that there was no property in witnesses as the accused were presumed innocent until proven guilty.

He, however, showed concern over the Somalis who were detained without a charge.

“There is no property in witnesses. The State can, therefore, call any witness who they feel can help out with their case, especially that an accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, an accused cannot be heard to say that is my witness. As regards the witnesses in custody, I do agree with the defence counsel that it is unacceptable for a country that thrives in the rule of law to keep someone in custody in the name of being State witnesses,” said Magistrate Kaoma.

He reluctantly granted the application for an adjournment and adjourned the matter to August 16.