“We knew that we were very innocent even the time they arrested us. We knew we were going to be acquitted,” said Obvious Mwaliteta after being acquitted by High Court judge Mwape Bowa. “We knew that it was politically motivated.”
Ruling on whether or not Mwaliteta, Evans Mukobela, Emmanuel Mumba, Laswell Phiri and McMillan Shimukonka who were charged with aggravated robbery contrary to the Laws of Zambia after being arrested on August 14 had a case to answer, judge Bowa said the State had failed to prove their case. He said the time that the alleged aggravated robbery took place, election materials were being transported as it was an election period. “I find that the State has not proved their case to warrant the accused to be placed on their defence,” said judge Bowa, adding there was nothing strange about a politician being found at the Electoral Commission of Zambia offices during an election period. Judge Bowa said the failure by the police investigations officer to show their involvement in the crime created a doubt in his mind. He said the accused were neither found with the paper spray allegedly used on the victims nor were they found with the stolen items.
On Mwaliteta and Mukobela, judge Bowa ruled that there was no direct evidence linking them to the offence. “There is nothing strange about A1 (Mwaliteta) being found at the ECZ premises as he is a known politician and other party representatives being on the scene since they were monitoring election results,” said judge Bowa, adding that the arresting officer, Arthur Shonga, discredited the evidence. Judge Bowa said Shonga did not investigate the matter properly.
And Charles Milupi says the acquittal of Mwaliteta and his co-accused should trouble the conscience of a well functioning office of the Director of Public Prosecution. But to be troubled by this acquittal, the Director of Public Prosecutions must in the first place have a conscience. Does this Director of Public Prosecutions have a conscience? We don’t think she has a conscience. If she had a conscience, we wouldn’t be witnessing so many unjustified prosecutions of opponents of those who gave her that job. It was very clear from the very beginning that they had no aggravated robbery case against Mwaliteta and his co-accused. Since Mwaliteta and his co-accused had not committed any crime, one would think hearing the no case to answer ruling from judge Bowa at the end of a twelve-month trial on Monday would give them faith in our criminal justice system. But that’s not how they feel.
On August 14, last year, Mwaliteta and his co-accused undertook election monitoring duties at the Zambia Air Force’s City Airport in Lusaka where Gen 12s were being received from areas of the country with poor accessibility. Kaizar Zulu and other Patriotic Front representatives had been there for some time receiving election materials without opposition representation. Mwaliteta and his co-accused’s presence was not wanted at City Airport and the police were set on them.
Mwaliteta and his co-accused had seen the wrong things going on at City Airport and had to be silenced, locked away on aggravated robbery charges. There’s no bail on aggravated robbery charges.
For the past year, the Director of Public Prosecutions has tried to convict Mwaliteta and his co-accused of a felony that could have put them in prison for years. Their “crime”? The Director of Public Prosecutions thought it was a crime to monitor elections and stop malpractices, rigging. She believed this was a felony even though the opposition, just like the Patriotic Front, had the right to monitor electoral processes everywhere or anywhere and their presence at City Airport did not threaten or harm a single person.
Why would the Director of Public Prosecutions spend twelve months pursuing something so wrongheaded and so untrue? Why would the Director of Public Prosecutions act this way? The answer is pretty simple. She had to impress the appointing authorities who had invested their blood, sweat and tears in this case and needed a body in return. To defend against these false aggravated robbery charges, Mwaliteta and his co-accused hired lawyers – lots of lawyers. We wonder what the bill will look like. And we can’t imagine the millions of taxpayers’ money wasted by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police on this case. Judge Bowa rejected each and every allegation against Mwaliteta and his co-accused. And that was without hearing from Mwaliteta, his co-accused or any of their witnesses.
So the Director of Public Prosecutions’ own witnesses proved their innocence – simply stunning. As bad as Mwaliteta and his co-accused’s experience has been, we know that others like Hakainde Hichilema and his co-accused have suffered far worse at the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions in a culture that accepts and encourages unjust tactics and falsehoods. When the Director of Public Prosecutions can use false criminal charges to destroy people in this way, then virtually everyone not with those in power is in danger – even if they have done nothing wrong.
So, how do Mwaliteta and his co-accused feel today? They feel vindicated by the outcome, but outraged by the process. They have been in prison for one year without having committed any crime. But the process was its own punishment – months of injustice fighting false aggravated robbery charges. And what about these prosecutors and the police? Who will render them what they are due for their malicious false prosecution? Justice must be served. But it’s not always served the right way under this regime, like when people go to prison for crimes that they never committed.
The agony of prison life and the complete loss of freedom are only compounded by the feelings of what might have been, but for the wrongful incarceration. Deprived for a year of family and friends and the ability to establish oneself in so many ways, the nightmare does not end upon acquittal and release from prison. After spending so many months in prison, one comes out with no money, the punishment lingers long after innocence has been proven. The state must have a responsibility to restore the lives of the wrongfully detained and prosecuted to the best of their abilities.
Despite their proven innocence, the difficulty of picking up life where they had left it is profound for the wrongfully detained and prosecuted; the failure to compensate them adds insult to injury. Society has an obligation to promptly provide compassionate assistance to the wrongfully detained and prosecuted. Conceding that no system is perfect, the government’s public recognition of the harm inflicted upon a wrongfully detained and prosecuted person helps to foster his healing process, while assuring the public that the government – regardless of fault – is willing to take ownership of its wrongs or errors. By guaranteeing compensation to the wrongfully detained and prosecuted, the government can take an important step towards ensuring the integrity of its criminal justice system. There’s certainly a case for the Director of Public Prosecutions to answer.