Criminals and terrorists use masks, not police. So, it is shocking, irresponsible and incomprehensible for Lusaka Province Police Commissioner Nelson Phiri to say, “police officers wear masks for fun because they love their job.” And then, inexplicably, Commissioner Nelson Phiri also says he has never seen any police officers wearing masks because it was not part of their uniform. How is this possible?

It appears that the Commissioner realized the mistake of saying officers wear masks for fun, and then tried to duck the issue by suggesting that he had never seen police in masks.

Ordinarily, we would have termed his statement childish, but considering that it is coming from a man of high ranks in the Service, we will describe it as incompetence. How does the Lusaka Division commander superintend over police officers whom he doesn’t see? Is he saying he doesn’t take an interest to see how his officers dress as they go out to maintain, or rather as is the case nowadays, to disrupt law and order? Surely, if this is the caliber of a Police Commissioner we have, then God help Zambia!

With leaders like this, it is not a surprise that the human rights abuses by Zambia Police are well documented, but ignored by the service command. If the police need violence to enforce law and order, then there is moral decay in the police service.

On Youth Day, March 12, 2016, women and children were violently attacked by PF cadres; Zambia Police officers stood by and watched. At another incident, at the Woodlands Police Station, police officers brutally beat and kicked a youth in his head, whose video went viral on social media: no disciplinary action was taken, the Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja issued a statement that there would be an investigation and those police officers responsible would be disciplined. But that was the end of it.

The Zambia Human Rights Commission Report states that: “The Police Service in Zambia, despite being charged with the responsibility to ensure protection of human rights, is often a major violator of human rights. Some of the worst human rights abuses, such as torture and extra-judicial killing of suspects have been committed by police officers themselves. Other common human rights abuses by the officers include false arrests, illegal and over detention without trial.”

Ironically, within the Police Service, a Victim Support Unit exists in almost all parts of the country to deal with violations of human rights, especially of women and children. Additionally, there is the Police Public Complaints Commission. What are they doing? Are they blind to all these violations of humans rights by the police? Once again, we have a case of incompetence in our Police Service.

There is excessive use of force by police officers on helpless citizens. Even President Lungu himself is aware of this fact and that is why he saw it fit to point out when he visited a detention cell at Lusaka’s Kabwata Police Station, that why should police officers beat suspects who have not even been tried?

It is sad that the police and government in general continue to apply the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals, who commit abuses and mostly target those who opposed the ruling party. Additionally, impunity remains a problem as ruling party supporters are either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, released after serving small fractions of prison sentences.

Only a few days ago, the PF secretary general blamed Zambia Police for violence, literally attacking the Service and the Police Command is just ndwii since it’s Davies Mwila, the ‘deputy vice-president of Zambia’ who was speaking.

Mwila’s remarks are a sign that incompetence in the Police Service has become an open secret, but the truth is that the PF secretary general and his untouchable PF cadres are the ones making the job of the police very difficult.

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, we note that the government is restricting this right. Police, in cahoots with PF cadres, continue to disrupt meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations with impunity. In dealing with demonstrators, police have adopted heavy-handed practices such as the use of teargas and beatings.

Since cadres wear military gear and carry guns, it is difficult to distinguish a masked police officer from a political hooligan out to make trouble. Police should stop wearing masks and start inspiring confidence in citizens they are supposed to protect. The police command should be ashamed for tolerating this!