Is it police brutality?
In the one corner, we have the police, equipped to the teeth, in riot gear, with pepper-spray, teargas, batons – and guns. In the other corner, we have the citizens, unequipped and unarmed.
Now, the citizens are rather agitated. In the case of Lesa Kasoma, the proprietor of Komboni Radio, she was riled by the strange suspension of her radio station. In the case of UPND supporters in Luanshya, they were enraged by the equally strange arrest of two of their party leaders. Thus, in both cases, the citizens may have acted provocatively. Perhaps they may even have charged at the police, and perhaps they even got a punch or two in. However, is this an excuse for what happened next?
In the case of Kasoma, she was beaten by six police officers. In the case of the protesters, a video shows them being bludgeoned and pepper-sprayed by police officers outnumbering them several times. Even after being frogmarched away, some officers continue to use their batons.
The Zambia Police Act of 1999 is obsessed with discipline. It lists over 50 causes for indiscipline for a police officer below the rank of assistant superintendent. However, only 3 causes are interested in how an officer exercise his authority. Thus, the Act lists it as being unlawful 1) to make unlawful or unnecessary arrest, 2) to use unnecessary violence to a prisoner or other person, and 3) to be uncivil to a member of the public (the last one deserves a smile).
The interesting word is “unnecessary”, because the problem is that police brutality is relative to a specific situation, depending on the level of resistance from the victims. Thus, it is very difficult to quantify. The police in Zambia have always used excessive force, as highlighted repeatedly by both the Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, but these days someone in the crowd is bound to have a camera to record it. Thus, it has become a lot easier to monitor police brutality. In the long run one may hope that this will go some way towards reducing misconduct.
Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly