Editor's Note

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
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”