The nine BNFA activists, Col. Lubasi, Ndopu Sanjola, Pastor Elliot Mbulana, George Akufuna, Silumina, Kebby Sishekanu, Phelim Kaungu, Ms. Mukubesa Mubita and Mrs. Yubai Mutukwa were left to languish in prison for a month, since 10th May 2018, for merely holding a peaceful press briefing to respond to matters raised by Mutungulu Wanga, when he held a public meeting in Livingstone to solicit Lozi support for the planned dialogue on the 1964 Barotseland Agreement between the Zambian government and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE).
Similarly, the Mongu Magistrate court has also acquitted six other Barotse, members of the Barotse Imilema youth group, on trial for the same charge of unlawful assembly after they were arrested last year.
Saviour Mumbela, Nawa Nawa, Pumulo Silumesi, Inambao Mwanangombe, Royd Musiyalela and Simui Lutangu were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly last year after they had gone to visit and mourn with their Chairman General, Sinonge Lutangu, who had just lost a relative at the time.
Making the ruling to dismiss their year-long case on Wednesday, 6th June, 2018, Principal Resident Magistrate, Lameck Mwale, stated that although the accused met at Sinonge’s house and were more than three (3) people, the state had failed to produce evidence linking them to the said crime.
The draconian Zambian law defines any gathering of three or more people as a public assembly, and it has often been used to deny Barotse their basic freedoms of free assembly, while that of seditious practices has been used to stifle free speech and freedom of expression.
In his ruling, however, the magistrate ruled that the court could not deduce that the accused were having a meeting with the intent to cause public alarm or disorder or provoke peace because the state has failed to substantiate their accusation.
“For the reasons I have given, I rule that the accused have no case to answer. The essential ingredients of unlawful assembly have not been proved. The state has not established enough evidence to warrant a case and acquits the accused."
“I dismiss the charges against the accused. Each accused is acquitted and should be set at liberty!” ruled Magistrate Mwale.
Meanwhile, the Zambian President is this morning expected to arrive in the contested territory of Barotseland for a three-day working visit to allegedly check on government projects in the region, particularly in Mongu and Lukulu districts.
Announcing the President’s visit to the region, Zambia’s Provincial minister Richard Kapita said yesterday that the president will among other things inspect the Simulumbe Cashew Nut Project, Lukulu District Hospital and Lukulu Boarding School, after which he would hold a public rally in Mongu where he is expected to address scores of his Patriotic Front (PF) Party supporters.
Therefore, the timely granting of bail for the nine BNFA members in Livingstone, a day after acquitting the other six Barotse Imilema in Mongu and just before the President's visit to the political hotbed of Barotseland is seen by many Lozi people, not as a coincidence or an execution of justice but rather strategically timed to facilitate a less hostile reception for the Zambian president as he visits the contested territory.
Minister Kapita did not, however, state whether the president will pay any courtesy visit to Lubosi Imwiko II, King of Barotseland, but it is expected that he will visit the King in line with long-standing tradition. Neither did he state if any Barotseland related matters will be discussed during the President's three-day visit.