Political road rage - TAX!

Main opposition party president Hakainde Hichilema (HH) has been arrested and charged with treason, a non-bailable offence, which comes with a maximum sentence of death. HH was arrested over the battle of the motorcades on 8 April (see this article).

Hundreds of armed police officers raided HH’s residence in New Kasama, Lusaka, before midnight on 10 April. Allegedly, the police blocked the main roads, switched off power to the house, forced their way through the gate, fired teargas, and, according to HH, “tortured” his workers and “trashed” his home (the “trashing” is shown in this video). His lawyers further claimed that the police “stole colossal sums of money (…) as well as various items such as shoes, blankets, speakers, floor carpets and foodstuffs”.

UPND MP Garry Nkombo – who had a squabble with a drunken police officer earlier this month – was allegedly beaten up by police outside the house (his account can be heard here), when he and other UPND MPs were denied entry. Two reporters from the independent Muvi and Prime TVs were arrested, but later released.

Police under political pressure?

Many commentators agreed that the raid on HH’s house was illegal. His lawyers pointed out that HH has been arrested more than 15 times since 2006, and that he has always been fully compliant when summoned by law enforcement agencies. They wondered what the show of force was about. HH was last arrested in October 2016, for seditious practices and unlawful assembly.

The police did not act out of the blue. On 10 April, PF Deputy Secretary General Mumbi Phiri called the police “unprofessional”, using exactly the same word as the party’s PF deputy spokesman Frank Bwalya earlier this month. Bwalya chose to deny his statement, but Phiri did not: “We call on the police to give us a go-ahead to protect our leader, if they have failed. President Lungu is not just the republican president, but leader of the Patriotic Front, and we have a very strong party security,” she told the media, alleging that her party had “been guided by a qualified doctor at Chainama Mental Health [Hospital] that Hakainde Hichilema is suffering from mental disorder”.

Later in the week, Phiri receives death threats, but she was unfazed: “I proclaim the blood of Jesus, and I will not die until God says it is over”. The police stated they were investigating the threats, which were also directed at two of President Lungu’s assistants – Amos Chanda and Kaizer Zulu, as well as Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja.

HH hides in safe room

HH was arrested in the morning on 11 April, after his lawyers were allowed to enter his house. Apparently, he spent the night in a safe room, which the PF claimed was the reason why police had fired teargas (after first denying that teargas had been used at all): “What else did people expect the police to do other than break into his house and smoke him out of the bunker in which he was hiding? The issue of human rights abuse by police does not arise here because Mr Hichilema himself put his family at risk by refusing to cooperate with them when they went there to arrest him,” PF deputy spokesman Frank Bwalya stated. HH’s wife, Mutinta, who is asthmatic, claimed the teargas made her faint twice.

HH was taken first to Woodlands Police Station, and then to Lilayi Police College, where he was charged with treason on 12 April. One of his lawyers, Jack Mwiimbu, was flabbergasted: “How can they arrest him on treason charges for allegedly obstructing the presidential motorcade, when he wasn’t even the one driving?” HH is also facing three other charges, including disobeying lawful orders to give way to Lungu’s motorcade, and, thus, disobeying statutory duty, and for using insulting language against police officers on 11 April, allegedly calling them “dogs”, “mother fuckers”, “idiots” and “asshole”.

The treason charge was also slapped on five UPND members – Lastone Mulilandumba, Muleya Haachenda, Walace Chakwa, Pretornous Haloba, and Hamusonde Hamaleka. HH’s lawyers told the court that the five had been tortured by police, including being deliberately sprayed with pepper spray in their mouths.

12 UPND members were also arrested on 10 April for obstructing police officers. 10 of them appeared in court on 19 April, pleading not guilty. They included HH’s workers and UPND media and security staff, including William Banda, who is a hard-hitting political troublemaker going back to the former ruling MMD party.

The delay in charging HH was allegedly caused by some of his many lawyers failing to show up on 11 April. Yet, on the same day, the same lawyers pushed in a habeas corpus application to force the state to present HH before court, but this was later dismissed by the High Court, as it was overtaken by events.

Lungu refuses to intervene

President Lungu said he would not intervene. “Allow the police to do their job. No one is above or below the law – not even myself [the republican president in Zambia cannot be sued]. When a criminal offence has been committed, it is not within the job of the president to override the due process of the law,” he stated on 13 April.

The police denied that HH had been refused access to his family, lawyers and personal doctor, as alleged by his lawyers. The lawyers claimed HH was feeling unwell from the teargas fired at his house, and UPND vice-president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) suggested the police had mixed it with “toxic chemicals” (GBM has not been arrested, despite riding in HH’s convoy). This was denied by Sunday Chanda, PF’s director for media, who pointed out that HH had been together with his wife and son in the safe room at the house, yet only he had allegedly suffered long-term ill-effects.

On 13 April, UPND secretary-general Stephen Katuka was arrested when trying to visit HH, allegedly because he was carrying a gun.

On 14 April, leader of the recently formed Economic and Equity Party, Chilufya Tayali, was arrested for libel, after he speculated on Facebook that Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja was charging HH with treason to divert attention from the police’s failure to protect Lungu in Mongu.

Churches call for calm

Criticism mounted at home. The influential Non-Governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) argued that Lungu has a responsibility “to heal” the political wounds from last year’s elections rather than “abuse state institutions against those with divergent views”. Arresting opposition leaders on “trumped up charges” is “reminiscent of a totalitarian state”.

The church mother bodies were split in their response. The Council of Churches of Zambia expressed dismay at “the unfolding lawlessness, impunity and sheer madness of the decisions being made in this country”, and concluded by referring to Proverb 29:2: “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan”.

However, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, the Bible Gospel Church in Africa and the Independent Churches of Zambia supported Lungu for not intervening, and asked the UPND to exercise restraint. Another influential NGO, the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) agreed: “We appeal to the UPND to hold on to their threats, and instead engage in constructive dialogue with the state on this matter of treason,” executive director Boniface Cheembe said.

Unrest is contained

Several international commentators expressed concern, and two of Zambia’s most respected legal commentators did not mince their words: lawyer Elias Munshya, who lives in Canada, suggested that Zambia was becoming a dictatorship, and law professor Muna Ndulo, who lives in the US, alleged that Zambia “is rapidly degenerating into a police state”, referring to both the police raiding HH’s house, but also to the recent murder of Zambia Air Force officer Mark Nchimunya Choongwa in police custody (see this article). “Even more troubling is that this is happening when government is led by a lawyer,” Ndulo stated.

Nonsense, retorted Lungu on 14 April: “Some people are saying President Lungu has the power to intervene in the criminal justice – no Bwana, I am a lawyer myself and understand my job. Yes, I have the power to pardon convicts and NOT suspects. And I can only pardon a convict after wide consultations. Let me ask you: ‘how many of my own cadres are before the courts of law today? How many have been convicted?’ Have you ever heard that President Lungu picked up a phone to call any police officer to drop an investigation or prosecution? So what is so special about the current one?” he argued.

Sporadic riots broke out in Southern, Northwestern and Lusaka Provinces, as UPND members protested, but Home Affairs Minister Steven Kampyongo warned that government would not tolerate any lawlessness from any member of the public. Lungu supported his minister on 15 April: “I wish to reiterate the warning given by the Minister of Home Affairs that any threat to the peace and security of the country will not be tolerated and will be taken out”. Commentators were concerned that government would declare a state of emergency, as Bonny Kapeso, the police chief in Southern Province, UPND’s hinterland, ordered all police officers to be in full riot attire, and to be ready to confront any form of violence.

Regardless, a spate of mysterious fires started (see this article).

Donors told to mind their own business

Zambia’s cooperating partners were concerned. The US urged “all actors to exercise restraint in addressing differences, to respect the rule of law and electoral proceedings, and to follow the due process Zambians expect from a country with a reputation for political pluralism and peaceful conflict resolution”. The European Union called for calm and a stop to “any actions and rhetoric likely to aggravate the situation”, pointing out that “political tensions in Zambia have increased over the past weeks”.

Lungu told them to mind their own business: “Let them do the job we accredited them to do in Zambia and not engage themselves in internal and sovereign matters of our country. All diplomats accredited to Zambia and NGOs trying to force me to intervene in this case are wasting their time, and I want to caution that they keep away from interfering with the due process of the law.”

Some of HH’s foreign supporters – former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Greg Mills, head of the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa – appealed to government to adhere to the rule of law, but government argued the two had dubious motives, as they had links to the same mining interests in South Africa that allegedly funded HH’s election campaign.

Lungu runs out of patience

Government made it clear that “enough is enough”. The Daily Mail reported that during Easter Lungu had stated: “We will deal with them. If it means locking up all of them, we will do so. I am now reacting. I want to be angry this time. We will no longer allow fighting and lawlessness”.

And his spokesman, Amos Chanda, warned the police on 13 April against releasing HH on bond. In a leaked telephone conversation he told Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja: “Let’s make him a lesson to others”.

Eventually, Lungu had had enough of everyone commenting on the case, after Copperbelt Minister Bowman Lusambo decided to tell the media: “If HH died today, there will be no loss to the country. It will be a loss to his family only. But if Edgar Lungu dies, it will be a loss to the country”. Lungu directed that no one should comment on the case without guidance from either State House or relevant ministries. He explained that Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba would handle diplomatic issues, while Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo would comment on security matters.

HH appears in court

On 18 April, HH appeared in court for the first time. Magistrate Greenwell Malumani ruled that HH was entitled to visits from his family and a doctor of his choice, and that each of his lawyers should be allowed to spend 60 minutes a day with HH, and not only 20 minutes as enforced by the police. Malumani also directed that HH should be transferred to Lusaka Central Prison (Chimbokaila). HH’s lawyers also demanded that HH should be given a bed, mattress, blankets and reading material. One of them, State Counsel Vincent Malambo, told the court that he defended his first treason case in 1989, but “even under the one-party state, political prisoners were not treated like this one”.

HH’s lawyers applied to the court to separate his charges, arguing that felony (treason – non-bailable – to be tried in the High Court) and misdemeanours (disobedience and insulting language – bailable – to be tried in the Magistrate’s Court) had been mixed together.

The matter was adjourned to 19 April, when the prosecution called for more time. The matter was duly adjourned again, to 20 April, at which time Malumani yet again adjourned matters to 26 April for ruling on the defence’s preliminary matter.

By then, HH will have spent 15 days in jail.

HH is defended by State Counsel Vincent Malambo, Nelly Mutti, Jack Mwiimbu, Laston Mwanabo, Martha Mushipe, Chad Muleza, Keith Mweemba, Henry Mbushi and Mulambo Haimbe, between them representing seven law firms. However, Keith Mweemba is considering to excuse himself. He told the court that he fears for his life, as he believes he is being followed by state agents.