The Director of Public Prosecutions on Wednesday entered a nolle prosequi in the charge against Hakainde Hichilema and his co-accused of disobeying police orders to give way to the presidential motorcade but left the treason charge. Why?
They probably know that those prosecutions will embarrass them. They have left the treason charges to keep Hakainde in prison. This is cruel, inhuman! They know very well that there’s case of treason against Hakainde which will stand. But good or bad charge, Hakainde has to be fixed.
Since Edgar Lungu came to power, this is the way they have been operating. They will arrest and detain political opponents with a lot of drama and publicity, but just to charge them with offences that can’t stand prosecution. Sometimes, they release them without charges at all. Joseph Mwenda, Dr Fred M’membe and wife Mutinta were in June last year arrested and detained on orders from someone at State House, but to this day, they have never been charged with any offence.
It is a well-known fact that throughout history, those who administer or control the criminal justice system hold the power with the potential for abuse and tyranny.
We appreciate the reality that every state must have the power to maintain order and punish criminal acts. But the way the state enforces its laws must not be arbitrary or subject to political manipulation by those wielding power.
We are increasingly witnessing individuals, in the name of the state, being arrested and detained or imprisoned, their property seized, and tortured without legal justification. No democracy can tolerate such abuses.
The due process of the law is increasingly becoming an empty phrase in Zambia. Homes are being broken into and searched by the police without a court order showing that there’s good cause for such a search. Police officers are being allowed to be stationed at individuals’ homes in a manner that virtually disturbs family life and puts them under house arrest with relatives and friends fearing to visit them. Private or personal property is being allowed to be seized by the police without any legal proof at all. The midnight police knock of the secret police has no place in a democracy. And detained persons must be released immediately if the charge is without justification or the arrest is invalid. Persons charged with crimes should not be held for protracted periods in prison. They are entitled to speedy trial, and to confront and question their accusers.
The treason charges against Hakainde will not hold and they need to be dropped immediately. It’s a well-known tactic of tyranny to charge political opponents with treason – an unbailable offence that often takes very long to conclude. For this reason, the crime of treason must be carefully limited in definition so that it cannot be abused as a weapon to stifle criticism of the government.
The criminal justice system was not designed for fixing political opponents. It was put there to protect the Zambian people. This is the ideal.
Unfortunately, reality rarely lives up to such noble ideals. It’s said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As long as there are mortal men with ulterior motives, there will be corruption and abuse. And our criminal justice system is today seeing more than its fair share of abuses. These abuses clearly stand against the ideals on which it was founded.
We should not allow these abuses that are being carried in our name – the case of The People against Hichilema and others – to continue unchallenged. These abuses need to be put to an end.