UPND chairperson for policy and research Dr Choolwe Beyani and five others have finally been granted bond after being arrested and charged with unlawful assembly for holding intra party elections in the bush on Saturday.
Recounting the ordeal, Dr Beyani said UPND was not intimidated by schemes to derail the party’s growth on the Copperbelt.
“What happened was that as the commissioner, I arrived, I was manning two elections; in Chingola and Chililabombwe. So we agreed that we shall hold the Chililabombwe first in the morning. So when we met with our people, they made it very clear that they have never gotten permission of any kind to hold a meeting. So I told them that that’s not a big problem because the way it happens in Lusaka and elsewhere, you don’t need a police permit as long as you are within your premises, you only need a permit if you are outside your office. So we went into the party office to hold the elections and as we were there, we began to conduct the election process, people began to vote. Then we began to see hordes of PF cadres outside on the perimeter of the offices. And there was one particular cadre who was holding catapults or malegeni…We didn’t want a situation where someone would say there was a fight between UPND and PF. So we decided to halt it and move out of site,” Dr Beyani narrated.
“We were aware too that if we move into a house of anybody, it will be called unlawful assembly so we went into the bush where there was no one and it was in the bush where we managed to almost conclude, we had only three voters left when police and PF cadres arrived on the scene and began to discharge live ammunition, one police officer and two officers discharged live ammunition, many of our people scampered and ran off. So us, the leaders stayed back and confronted the officers and wondered what the problem was there and one of the officers, I would call him the arresting officer, Mubanga, was very excited and accused us of holding an illegal meeting. So I asked him, I said ‘how can we hold an illegal meeting in the bush where we are not talking to anybody and meeting anybody except ourselves?’. So anyway, there was no conversation, we were bundled, they told us to get the ballot boxes in the car, get to the police station and we got to the police station. That’s how eventually, we were charged with a charge of unlawful assembly but that first night we were not charged, we refused to say anything without our lawyer.”
He explained that even after the lawyer came to the station, there was political interference in the handling of the case.
“So Sunday, our lawyer came from Ndola and he advised us not to say anything but to accept that we should be charged but deny the charges. This was done and we actually thought we would be given bond shortly after the intervention of counsel but there was immediate political interference, we hear that they were calling, Ndola was calling and even Lusaka was communicated with and they were told that they even needed a docket, and the PF cadres were in and out of the police station. Even the commissioner for the area was in the police station. So they told our lawyers to come back at 15:00 hours to see how we could proceed with the matter which they did. But then they arrested another fellow, one of our members, whom they claimed corrupted a police officer and we believe this report was done by PF cadres and this is one of our members who was not at the meeting. So it seems that the PF had a bone to chew with him because he was part of what you may call foot soldiers in the campaign and in the politics of the party. So it looks like they wanted to get revenge and have him arrested,” Dr Beyani said.
“So he was arrested in the evening and he was interviewed and asked if he corrupted any officer, and he said no and we said if they want evidence, let them come to us because we were the ones on the fight and we didn’t see him so that complicated the matter and when the lawyer came, they said ‘well, we need to finish investigations with the young member of the party who was being accused of corrupting a police officer’ and then their hands were tied and that’s how eventually they interrogated him for three hours but the funny part is they never asked us whether he was present or not because as far as I knew as a commissioner, he was not present at the elections, he didn’t come. But he is a party member but he never came. So I don’t know how a party member who was not part of the meeting can be accused of corrupting a police officer when he was not on site. So that’s how the district commissioner even came to be part of the interviews which makes you wonder what the district commissioner was doing in the interview and what exactly PF cadres were doing also in the police offices.”
He said the presence of the DC in an interrogation room was a clear indication that the police in the area were working under difficult conditions.
“It became clear to us that the police command in Chililabombwe is working under difficult conditions. The police officers are always influenced, to some degree under the watchful eye of cadres who report them to anybody that they feel so and it’s our understanding that the Minister of Mines, who is resident in Chililabombwe is a coordinator of these cadre activities. So, that is the difficulty that the police in Chililabombwe has,” he said.
He said PF was panicking because it had lost support on the Copperbelt.
“So my view, in the end is that this reflects the kicks of a dying horse and I was able to gather from Chililabombwe that PF support in the area has completely collapsed. So they are in a panic mode and will do anything to block UPND from doing any activity in support of the party. The elections on the Copperbelt on the material day took place successfully except in Chililabombwe, there was no interference anywhere except here. So it’s an interesting dimension that Chililabombwe appears to have a unique problem of cadres in the police station commanded possibly by a minister who is resident here, a situation that we didn’t find in the rest of the Copperbelt. Not that there are no cadres but there was no interference of our elections in the manner that we saw in Chililabombwe. So I think it was basically meant to be an intimidation but it should be put on record that UPND cannot be intimidated,” said Dr Beyani.
“We have come a long way, we are poised to form government next year and do what is good for the Zambian people including the police and the residents of our country.”