The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called on the Zambia Police Service to grant human rights defender Chama Fumba alias Pilato and his co-accused bond or take them to court so that the trio can access bail.
And HRC has condemned the routine arrests and detention of people peacefully exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, saying it is an abuse of the Public Order Act by the police service.
Pilato was arrested in Livingstone on Saturday alongside Lazarous Mambwe and charged with unlawful assembly.
And on Saturday night, Alliance for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti and programmes manager Bornwell Mwewa were equally detained by Police after they travelled to Livingstone to negotiate Pilato’s release.
Miti was early Sunday admitted to Livingstone Central Hospital’s Batoka section after suffering an asthma attack in police cells following her arrest on Saturday for allegedly “assaulting a police officer”.
In a statement, HRC spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya stated that it was unfair and unjustifiable to treat individuals who were peacefully expressing their views on matters of public interest as common criminals.
“The Commission is calling on the restoration of the right to liberty of Mr. Chama and his co-accused in the alleged unlawful assembly charge, Mr. Lazarus Mambwe, and the Alliance for Community Action Executive Director Ms. Laura Miti and the Programme Manager Mr. Bornwell Mwewa in accordance with the state obligation to respect the rights of suspects. Further, Section 33 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) Act provides that accused persons who are detained without a warrant may be granted police bond if it is not practicable to take them before an appropriate competent court of law within 24 hours. The Commission is confident that the courts of law will admit the suspects to bail on reasonable and necessary conditions pending trial because the offences they are charged with are bailable,” Muleya stated.
He further regretted that the continued abuse of the Public Order Act by the police grossly undermined the respect for constitutionalism, rule of law and human rights and needed to stop for the sake of good governance.
“The Commission wishes to take this opportunity to express its repeated concern over the routine arresting and detention of individuals or groups of individuals who are peacefully exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression…It is the Commission’s considered view that it is unfair and unjustifiable to treat individuals who are peacefully expressing their views on matters of public interest as common criminals,” stated Muleya.
Meanwhile, NDC leader Chishimba Kambwili has appealed to Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to unconditionally release Miti, Mwewa and Pilato, charging that the current IG is the worst Zambia has ever had.
Speaking to journalists at the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court yesterday after his forgery case was adjourned to today, Kambwili insisted that the arrest of the trio was unacceptable.
He added that the system of using the police to squeeze Zambia’s shrinking political space had now shifted to squeezing civil society organisations (CSOs).
“I think this situation of using the police to squeeze political space has now moved to squeezing civil society space. This is unacceptable! You and I know that religious organizations, particularly churches, are exempted from informing the police whenever they have meetings for social teaching. Obviously, what Pilato was doing in Livingstone was to go and share the social teaching with the congregants at the Catholic Church. And to [be] hounded out, arrested and detained, it is unacceptable. For once, the police must deny this issue of being used on political lines,” Kambwili said.
He called on Kanganja to resign with immediate effect, charging that “the man is the worst Inspector General of Police the country has seen”.
Kambwili also wondered how Miti could beat up a male police officer.
“I’m calling upon Kakoma Kanganja to resign with immediate effect. This man is the worst Inspector General of Police this country has seen. He is not even ashamed of himself. If I was Kakoma Kanganja…nifilya batila bami suula kale, ninsoni shaku myebela pofye ishabula (like they say, you are already a disgraced person, but people are just shy to tell you off). If you see that you are being told to do something wrong constantly, the best you can do is resign, otherwise, you are losing your integrity. How can Laura Miti, a small person, beat a male policeman? All that is fake! I have gone through this and I know what it means, they are just making it up,” Kambwili said.
“Look, I have been arrested 12 times in the last two years just because I take a hard stand on corruption and misrule, now you want to go to the civil society organisations? It’s unfortunate. Elo insoni ebuntu, you arrested the same Laura Miti and Chama Fumba (Pilato), you brought them to court and they were acquitted. Again, you go and arrest them? Bushe kwena (surely) how do your brains work? Because a person who is not able to differentiate sense from nonsense is as good as a dead person!”
He appealed to Kanganja to unconditionally release Pilato, Miti, Mwewa and Mambwe.
“My dear brother, Kakoma Kanganja, can you release Pilato, Laura Miti and the other two people that have been detained, unconditionally? This is what you did to me. When I was MP, people came to my home, I addressed them, you said, ‘unlawful assembly.’ You took me to court, you go and enter a nolle, are you not ashamed of yourselves? But you continue doing these things to the people of Zambia. People are watching, wina azalila (someone will cry),” said Kambwili.