Nine Barotse languish in jail without trial or bail weeks after their arrest on alleged unlawful assembly

27 May 2018
Author 
Zambia rapidly degenerating into police state

 

The Zambian state has often been accused of treating Barotse people differently from other Zambians under the national judicial systems, and the nine Barotse arrested in Livingstone over two weeks ago is the latest case to prove that state-sponsored mistreatment of Lozi people in Zambia not only exists but is also on the increase.

Since their arrest over two weeks ago on allegations that they addressed the media without permission, the nine Lozis are yet to be accorded either a trial or a bail hearing, while for the moment they continue to suffer deplorable prison conditions like convicted criminals.

To our understanding, the only crime the nine are accused to have committed was to organize a peaceful press briefing in response to another press briefing held earlier by Mutungulu Wanga, another Lozi and key proponent and emissary of both the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) and the Zambian Government (GRZ) currently tasked to rally Barotse people across Barotseland and Zambia to accept the BRE/GRZ proposed sham of a dialogue intended to rubberstamp government maneuvers to force Lozi people into accepting the Zambian government’s position on the long-standing but now defunct pre-independence Barotseland Agreement of 1964.

Naturally, after Mutungulu’s press briefing, the nine members of the Barotse National Freedom Alliance (BNFA) felt they needed to peacefully make known their contrary views on Mutungulu and his paymasters’ offer of fake dialogue. This, however, is what we understand made the nine arrested and incarcerated, firstly under seditious practice laws, but when subsequent police raids at their homes yielded no evidence to sustain seditious charges, their charge was changed to that of unlawful assembly.

Despite bail hearing or police bond being a right before the Zambian law, it would appear that Lozis are never accorded such luxury in Zambia but are instead usually imprisoned indefinitely until the state feels they have been punished anyway without ever finding them guilty of their alleged crimes. Then their respective charges would be accordingly dismissed through the technicality of nolle prosequi, without a possibility of either countersuit for wrongful incarcerations or compensations whatsoever.

If, for a moment, we assumed that they indeed held any unlawful assembly as charged, should they not qualify for statutory bail, police bonds or a commencement of trial within forty-eight hours of their arrest like other Zambians? Why must the Barotse’s own cases be different before the Zambian laws?

Meanwhile, as the Lozi endure such harsh punishment before the Zambian courts, the rest of the country would either pretend to not see or know what the state is doing to the Lozi or will cheer the state for suppressing the Lozi aspirations to exercise their basic human freedoms and rights such as free expression, assembly and conscience.

The Zambian Church, CSOs, Media, Politicians and National Human Rights watch groups equally stay mute as if in approval of such gross violation of the basic human rights of the Lozi people in Zambia. All these organizations usually voice outrage whenever other Zambians are similarly victimized by the state.

The unfortunate question we must pose, therefore, is whether Barotse people are second-class human beings or whether they are expected to take up arms before they could begin to be treated as a people deserving equity and equality before natural and international laws of justice!

Therefore, we also wish to agree with the BNFA for raising alarm and concern on the occasion of the African Freedom Day Commemorations because the people of Barotseland have no cause to celebrate the Africa Freedom Day when Freedom still eludes them.

In their May 25th message, the Barotse National Freedom Alliance expressed concern at the continued detention of nine of its members in Livingstone who were charged with unlawful assembly over two weeks ago.

BNFA Secretary General Mwiya Katukula wondered why the nine members have been detained for this long without trial or bail for merely holding a peaceful press briefing.

He further called on African leaders to reflect deeply on this as the continent commemorated Africa Freedom day on 25th May as many people were still denied the right to freedom of expression and assembly in Zambia and across Africa.

‘The right of assembly has been removed from the people of Barotseland,’ Katukula lamented.

The nine BNFA activists who were arrested in Livingstone by Zambia police are Col. Lubasi, Ndopu Sanjola, Pastor Elliot Mbulana and George Akufuna, the BNFA Regional Chairperson in Livingstone. Others are Bonny Silumina, Kebby Sishekanu, Phelim Kaungu, Ms. Mukubesa Mubita and Mrs. Yubai Mutukwa.

The first four were arrested on Thursday 10th May 2018 while the last five were arrested a few days later.

This was after Mr. Mutungulu Wanga held a meeting in Livingstone at Mukuni Park, on 5th May 2018, to solicit for support for the planned dialogue on the 1964 Barotseland Agreement between the Zambian government and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE).

The BNFA leadership in Livingstone reacted by calling for a press briefing to respond to the matters brought up by Mr. Wanga but were rounded up and arrested by the Zambia police.

Meanwhile, in a now too familiar pattern, the Zambia Police has not issued any statement on the Livingstone Barotse arrests, and this may possibly be yet another case which will go unrecorded in the judicial records of Zambia.

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