IN expressing his displeasure about the manner in which police officers dispersed some Bread of Life Church congregants in Mkushi recently, Honourable Stephen Kampyongo said not even him, as Minister of Home Affairs, has the power to order police to go and beat up citizens. The minister feels what the police are doing to night patrons and those holding public gatherings against the presidential directive is excessive and wrong.
“A trained officer must be able to make a fair judgement as they engage members of the public. The minimum force which can be applied must be proportional to the resistance that a police officer is facing on the ground. When there’s an operation order, you know who gives instructions. Not even me as Minister of Home Affairs would tell someone to say go and whip that one, go and arrest that one. It doesn’t work like that. Police officers know the way instructions are given to them. They know when to apply minimum force, it must be lawful instructions from the hierarchy of command. Like the Inspector General of Police stated, we are encouraging our officers to ensure that they conduct themselves professionally and ensure that they strike a balance between observing people’s liberties and enforcing the law. Even where they are applying the minimum force, that minimum force must be proportionate to the resistance. I must take this opportunity to express our regret over the incidence that we might have seen circulating on social media where members of the Bread of Life International Church in Mkushi had a challenge with our police officers. That is what we can say, is not acceptable,” said Honourable Kampyongo.
Dear readers, against all odds, the Minister of Home Affairs has done it again. Honourable Kampyongo is absolutely right, and all well-meaning Zambians must applaud him for speaking out against abuse of office. Although the minister did not name anyone, our interpretation of his intervention is that it was not only targeted at the police but also the minister under whose instructions the officers have been brutalising citizens.
Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo is on record ordering police officers to beat people up. He is on record declaring that human rights have been suspended and that police are under instructions from him to whip those found drinking alcohol in bars at night. Honourable Lusambo has arrogantly vowed to continue assaulting citizens who are defiant of the presidential directive.
Minister Kampyongo is telling police officers that a provincial minister has no powers to order them to beat people. Even though police have, on many occasions taken instructions from him to abuse the law, Honourable Kampyongo says abuse of office is a crime, and we agree with him, absolutely. Police are allowed to use minimum force when they face resistance in the process of law enforcement. They are allowed to use maximum force, like firing a live bullet at a suspect, where they are confronted with an unyielding hostile situation. You cannot a whip to cane a group of church goers, that’s insane!
The law says law breakers must be arrested, charged and tried in court. The reason is simple. Every suspect must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. What Mr Lusambo and his gang of police thugs have been doing is presuming all people guilty without giving them an opportunity to prove themselves otherwise. One day, police officers will beat someone with a pre-existing life-threatening condition and that person will die. What will they say? What would they have achieved?
This problem is bigger than police and their commander from Kabushi constituency are seeing it. What they are doing is illegal, but the problem lies at the helm of the country’s leadership. Like we have stated in our previous editorial opinions, the Executive has not invoked the necessary provisions of the Constitution for excessive law enforcement during this COVID-19 lock-down. Parliament has not enacted any laws to empower police to arrest and charge offenders. Politicians are expecting officers to tame the public with no backing laws. In our view, this is one issue that the Minister of Home Affairs should be concerned about. He is right that beating up people is illegal, but he must provide proper guidance to law enforcers. What should they do?
We may not be Honourable Kampyongo’s favourite news outlet. He may actually be wishing us very bad things because we criticise him whenever he indulges in bad governance practices. But our criticism is motivated by our desire to see him serve us better, and it delights us when he says or does the right thing. In this instance, we stand with Minister Kampyongo and his displeasure over the police brutality.
This is the Kampyongo we want. Zambians are very observant and they take note when a government leader acts in their interest. It is not in contest that those people who are defying the directive to avoid social gatherings are putting the lives of other people in danger, but putting scars on their backs or subjecting them to bloodshed is not the solution.
Bravo Honourable Kampyongo for putting Lusambo in his place!