from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE arrest of opposition members, government critics and aides of his predecessor as well torture in police custody indicates new Zambia president, Haikande Hichilema, is morphing into a dictator.
A fallout with the human rights commission and violations against the media have added to the crisis.
Hichilema is entrenching the same system of autocracy he pledged to eliminate, ahead of his election in August last year.
The former opposition leader succeeded Edgar Lungu, who had lost favour among Zambians amid sentiments that he was becoming despotic.
Relations with some Western countries and the donor community were strained at the escalation of human rights under Lungu, hence the election of businessman Hichilema was hailed as heralding a new era of the upholding of human rights.
Months after the widely acclaimed elections, critics argue the situation is worse under the new government.
There has been a string of arrests, purportedly a crackdown against corruption but apparently, Patriotic Front followers and critics of the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND).
This includes Lungu’s barber.
Hairdresser Shebby Chilekwa and former Patriotic Front (PF) deputy secretary general, Mumbi Phiri, have been arrested for the murder of UPND cadre, Lawrence “Gaddafi” Banda during parliamentary by election in the western Kaoma in 2019.
Police have allegedly tortured Chilekwa in custody.
Another individual accused of Banda’s murder, Fidelis Chulu, has also alleged brutality by police when the law enforcers stormed the house in which he was arrested alongside Chilekwa.
Chulu alleged officer beat them with wire cables.
He added the assault continued in the car until they reached the police station in Kaoma.
Police have come under criticism for allegedly denying a High Court order to take Chilekwa for medical attention.
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is concerned at the allegations of torture and the way in which the Zambia Police Service handled the visit by the commission to ascertain if the suspect was tortured.
Mudford Mwandenga, Chairperson of the HRC, said the efforts by police were “uninspiring” as the suspect was met in the presence of a police officer.
“Therefore, the commission was not able to meaningfully engage with the suspect,” Mwandenga said.
“Further efforts to undertake adequate investigations were not successful because the police officers were not co-operative.”
HRC has urged police to “do the right thing” and prove whether or not the suspect had been tortured.
“Torture constitutes gross human rights violation and is a serious crime which the police must not trivialize as demonstrated by their actions and press statements.” Mwandenga said.
Hichilema’s UPND has exacerbated the debacle by lashing at the HRC.
Ironically, Hichilema was tortured in police custody during his treason trial in 2017.
“Where was the Human Rights Commission when PF killed innocent people in cold blood and brutalised others including President HH?” asked Percy Chanda, UPND Chairman for Mines.
He said the claims on human rights abuse were “totally unfounded.”
In fact, he argued, Hichilema was improving the conditions of inmates.
“Of late, we have noticed too much excitement in the PF camp upon hearing that the New Dawn Administration has bought mattresses and bunker beds for inmates,” Yes, President HH will continue respecting your Human Rights even as inmates,” Chanda said.
He added, “We just need to warn you (PF) in advance that there are no politics in prisons. We expect you to behave as ordinary inmates.”
The arrest of PF members, including their spouses has continued, raising fears the anti-corruption crusade was to stifle the opposition.
Earlier this month, police arrested Nancy Lusambo, wife of Kabushi Member of Parliament, Bowman Lusambo.
She has been charged with counts of concealing properties suspected to be proceeds of crime.
Her husband was arrested at the beginning of the year for alleged corruption.
In January, police arrested PF Central Committee member, Raphael Nakachinda, for “defamation of the president” after alleging foreign entrepreneurs linked to Hichilema intened to evict some residents to make way for a mall.
He was arrested on similar charges of “insulting” Hichilema at the end of last year.
Bowman Lusambo has faced similar charges.
Anderson Banda, UPND Lusaka Youth Chairperson, said the youths would “not entertain” insults against the head of state.
“The opposition shouldn’t take the calmness and tolerance by the UPND youths as a source of weakness but they are doing so to respect the rule of law,” Banda said.
In December last year, some 20 UPND supporters forcibly entered, a community radio station, Mpika FM, in the northeastern town of Mpika, and ordered the presenter on air to immediately stop broadcasting a weekly phone-in-programme.
The programme, which featured a discussion with an opposition legislator, Robert Kapyanga, was halted.
Some PF youths have been using aggressive language.
Clinton Simfukwe, Copperbelt Deputy Youth spokesperson, claimed PF would not bounce back to power because it was “a dead and buried party” and a “ghost.”
“When they (PF) say they are rebranding and bouncing back, they simply mean they are sharpening the edge of their sword to come and destroy more,” Simfukwe said.
He added, “Let’s not experience such a criminal government in Zambia as long as our great country exists.”
Hichilema recently pledge to fulfill his pre-election promises as he presided at the handed over 30 percent of the Kitwe Mineral Slag Dump to cooperatives owned by the local youth and women.
“Fellow citizens, you can be assured of our care for the welfare of our people and know that the change that you voted for will bring about better days for you and your families,” Hichilema said.
– CAJ News