UPND president Hakainde Hichilema was yesterday barred from visiting photographer Chellah Tukuta at Lusaka Central Police Station.

But Hichilema has told Tukuta’s family that he is offering Lusaka lawyer Mulambo Haimbe’s services to support him through the legal process.

Hichilema, who was accompanied by governance activist Brebner Changala, Haimbe and other party officials, told journalists that police claimed they did not have Tukuta in custody and that his whereabouts were unknown.

“We have been stopped from seeing Chellah Tukuta, the arrested youth, as we only wanted to encourage him to remain strong even in this period. We were told that Chellah is not being held at Central Police station and that they don’t know his whereabouts. We also demand for his immediate release because he is entitled to the freedom of expression and speech as enshrined in our country’s constitution. When things are going wrong, people must speak out and not gagging them or putting your knees on them. It’s time for each one of us to get involved and get it solved because hope and help is on the way,” Hichilema said.

“He is entitled to be visited, he is innocent as the law says everybody who is accused is innocent until proven guilty. He has not been taken to court for over 48 hours which is against the law, the law is very clear! Whoever is arrested for whatever crime, he must be taken to court within 48 hours. Also, I am told they are charging him with criminal libel, libel is not a case against the state, it is against the individual why haven’t the individuals taken him to court instead of arresting him? It is unfortunate, this is an illegality going on, but he is entitled to friends, citizens seeing him.”

And Hichilema told Tukuta’s relatives that he was offering legal support.

“We went to see our friend but we were denied to see him, we just wanted to strengthen him. So, please strengthen him, I am veteran of this and Mr Changala. So please let us remain strong, he is a good Zambian, he is a good citizen. We have also come with our lawyer. We thought that maybe there would be need. I don’t know what the family feels, we are offering our lawyer. He is a Zambian, I have been in this situation when you are here you would want fellow citizens to come and see you. We should not fear he is not a criminal,” said Hichilema.

And in an interview, acting Police spokesperson Danny Mwale said the reasons given to Hichilema were genuine.

He said “maybe at the time of his visitation, Tukuta was being transported to Copperbelt to face further charges”.

“If they told him that he is not there, then he is not there, they can’t cheat. Officers can’t cheat. You remember he has some charges faced on the Copperbelt, maybe he is on his way to the Copperbelt. You remember that the statement that we had issued earlier there was an indication to say that he is supposed to face some charges on the Copperbelt. So maybe they have already started off going to the Copperbelt because they can’t cheat, our officers can’t tell lies, why should we cheat? If they told him that he is not in police cells, then that is what it is on the ground,” Mwale said.

When asked why the family members had not yet been informed about his transportation to Copperbelt, Mwale said maybe information was yet to be given to the family members.

“It is like you have your uncle coming from Chongwe, you have another cousin coming from Napundwe. So, probably it is not all the family members who are aware that he is gone. It could be that they started off today, you see that? Now for word to filter that he has gone, maybe one uncle will know, then by the end of the day, they will know that he is not there. The reason that they gave, I think that is what it is on the ground, because they can’t cheat, officers can’t tell lies,” insisted Mwale.

Tukuta was last week arrested and charged for four counts of Criminal Libel in connection with some derogatory remarks alleged to have been produced and posted on social media against Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Dora Siliya, Zambia Revenue Authority Commissioner General Kingsley Chanda, Northern Province Permanent Secretary Charles Sipanje and former special assistant to the president for press and public relations Amos Chanda.