HOME Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo says 370 households on the Copperbelt Province are suspected to have been gassed between January 22 and February 14, 2020, out which a total of 1,198 people were affected.

Speaking when he rendered a Ministerial Statement in Parliament, Wednesday, Kampyongo gave statistics of those who had been affected by gassing so far.

“On the Copperbelt, a total number of 370 houses were suspected to have been gassed from 22nd January to 14th February, 2020, in which a total of 1,198 individuals were affected. One person who responded to the distress call from a neighbour died from suspected gassing whilst the rest received medical attention and have since been discharged from various hospitals and health centres. In North Western Province, 30 houses were suspected to have been gassed with poisonous chemical substance and 162 victims were affected. 16 suspects have since been arrested, charged and are yet to appear in the courts of law. Mr Speaker, Lusaka and Northern Provinces have also recorded some incidences of suspected gassing similar to those on the Copperbelt. However, much of the information in circulation especially on Social media is not factual and cannot be backed by medical evidence. These false alarms have created insecurity leading to riots and instant mob justice,” he explained.

“In Chazanga and Matero Townships between 15th February and 16th February, 2020, 11 cases of suspected gassing have been confirmed while five have been found to be false alarms in which four people have been killed. A private vehicle was also damaged in the process. One person has since been arrested for the murder of an innocent citizen suspected of being a ritual killer. 50 people were arrested for idle and disorderly conduct. These people were found with offensive weapons and have been moving around communities under the pretext of patrolling but ending up harassing innocent people. Further Mr Speaker, on 17th February, 2020, a report was received by the Zambia Police Service of suspected gassing that occurred at Aurthur Wina school in Lusaka district. A couple of children were taken to Chilenje Hospital for screening and observation, the results at the hospital revealed that most of the children except one who had signs of asthma were found to be okay.”

Kampyongo updated the House on the Genesis of the tension in the country.

“It is indeed regrettable that the Zambia Police Service has continued to record violent attacks against citizens in some parts of the country. These attacks were first recorded in Chingola district on the Copperbelt Province and have since spread to other parts of the country. Mr Speaker, allow me to brief the nation on the criminal activities recorded in the recent past. Sir, on the 29th of August, 2019, a family of six was attacked by unknown criminals who were armed with machetes. The four children aged between four and 12 years sustained serious injuries while the mother aged 29 was allegedly murdered by unknown persons at her residence. She was found raped and had deep cuts on her head, it appeared the attackers gained entry by breaking the bedroom wall and dragged the victim into the sitting room. Three suspects have been arrested and are appearing in the courts of law,” Kampyongo said.

“Another case was recorded on the 25th of December, 2019 in Chingola. A male person aged nine years was attacked by criminals using suspected metal bars and sustained multiple injuries. The death of the minor sparked riots in the city. Five suspects in connection with the murder of the nine-year-old boy and are appearing in the courts of law. Further, in the same month of December, a male person was injured and sustained a deep cut on the forehead. Mr Speaker, arising from these incidences, suspects connected to the murder of the young male were arrested and charged and are equally appearing before the courts of law. Sir, you may wish to know that the mode of operation in all these criminal attacks were similar, the attackers targeted incomplete houses and they did not steal anything after committing these heinous crimes. Further, the attackers used windows to enter and exit the victims’ houses.”

Kampyongo said the criminals had changed tactics with time.

“Mr Speaker, as a result of the attacks on innocent citizens, Chingola district experienced a spate of riots in the Townships. Members of the public resorted to instant mob justice on suspects whom they perceived to be behind the killings. However, the Zambia Police Service managed to contain the situation and apprehended a total of 158 suspects who were charged with riotous behaviour. You may also wish to note that alarming statements have been issued particularly on social media that the reported incidences were linked to ritual killing. I wish to state that the term ritual killing means slaying a human being to appease deity. In short, victims of ritual killings are found with certain body parts missing from them for suspicious ritual use. From the investigations so far, the police cannot confirm that the attacks are linked to ritual killings,” he said.

“Mr Speaker, it has been observed that after several attacks on the people, criminals devised a different mode of operation. They now started spraying poisonous chemical substances to make victims unconscious. Several gassing incidences have been recorded in various parts pf the country. The affected places include Copperbelt, Central, Eastern, Northern, North Western and now Lusaka Province. On 13th February, 2020, gassing incidents in Lusaka were recorded and sporadic riots were experienced in Kanyama, Chawama, John Howard, Chaisa and Matero Townships. That was a regrettable occasion where people took law into their own hands and in the process, three unidentified male persons were killed. Mr Speaker, different types of poisonous chemical substances have been found at different scenes of crime as of now. These poisonous substances have been subjected to laboratory examinations and the results have been shared with the law enforcement agencies. But due to the fact these matters will be subjected to the courts of law, the results have not been shared with the general public as it were. Government takes public safety as a major priority and sharing the results would have definitely compromised the court processes that will be done later.”

Meanwhile, Kampyongo said some MTN employees attempted to take advantage of the tension to cover up fraud.

“Mr Speaker, another interesting report was received from MTN Headquarters where there was a report of attempted gassing. But investigations revealed that some people wanted to burn the building with a view to destroy financial records over a fraud case. Three suspects, among them a security guard and two MTN employees were arrested and appearing before the courts of law. Mr Speaker, government has put a number of measures in place, in order to contain the situation,” said Kampyongo.