( By Charles Tembo in Ndola)
POLICE in Ndola have finally charged five pastors and three officials from the Centre for Trade Policy and Development who were reflecting on the proposed 2019 national budget. And UPND president Hakainde Hichilema says it is no longer guess work that the PF will arrest anyone opposing their corruption, debt crisis and bad governance. The eight have been charged with unlawful assembly contrary to the laws of Zambia.
On Friday last week police disrupted a meeting organised by CTPD to reflect on the proposed 2019 national budget. The meeting was held at Ndola Central Baptist Church. The armed police and others in plane clothes entered the Church building and ordered that the meeting be stopped immediately. Copperbelt police commissioner Charity Katanga said the meeting was illegal as the conveners did not have a police permit.
She said the eight who were picked by police were warned and cautioned before been detained.
“Yes, we have a report where people were arrested for unlawful assembly. We had information that there is a ‘political’ group that had meeting without police notification. Initially, 53 people had gathered. But only eight were picked with one Pastor George Palo who is the led convener of the meeting,” Katanga said.
“So eight were picked up, a warn and caution statement was recorded from them. They were arrested and detained, later released on police bond. So they will appear in court on Friday charged with unlawful assembly.”
But some Church pastors in Ndola have warned that the government should never engage them in the next national prayer and fasting activities next year.
“What sort of nonsense is this. Just last week, we had national prayers. The government came to us and we organised the prayers at Levy Stadium. If people did not attend the prayers that is not our problems. Now just a day after the prayers, CTPD had already arranged that we can also contribute to look at the 2019 national budget. In the process, we are arrested. Surely, is this a country that we will run? So today, during our Church service we told our members what we went through and how we were embarrassed. So our members will make decisions,” a pastor, who did not want to be named but was among the arrested, said.
“My brother, this is uncalled for. We, the Pentecostal pastors and others that were part of the budget reflection meeting are so disappointed. But we wait for Friday as we appear at court. How can we have a political meeting? Are we politicians as? This government should not play with people by abusing the police. We wait to go to court. We will have the last laugh. We will see, but we forgive them.”
And Hichilema yesterday said the arrest of clergymen and civil society organisation members in Ndola last Friday for discussing debt crisis was an affront to democracy.
“To the church, we say remain strong because history records show that you, together with all of us gave hope when our country was under siege by such elements,” he said. “And to the civil society organisations, as a party we would like to encourage you to place the interests of our country first and ensure those plundering both public and donor funding in this case the PF are held accountable. It is no longer guess work that the PF will arrest anyone opposing their corruption, debt crisis and bad governance but we call on the country to join hands and say no to such colonial way of running our country.”
Hichilema said appealed the police not to accept to be abused by the corrupt few in the PF.
“We are aware that our men and women in uniform are the least respected by the PF but we will restore their dignity and improve their conditions of service when in government and this is why we call on them to think twice when asked to arrest pastors, civil society organisations members and citizens in general,” he said. “We condemn the arrest of members of the clergy and some from the civil society organisation on Friday 19th October, 2018 in Ndola. This was after they had gathered to discuss the budget and the debt crisis, and corruption. We call on the PF to stop abusing the police in hiding their corruption and debt crisis.”
Hichilema said the brutal arrest of pastors and the civil society organisation advocating for transparency and accountability on the part of how government and donor resources were spent was a clear indication of the PF’s continued oppression and dictatorship.
“Zambia does not need a regime such as the PF that has robbed citizens of their freedoms of association, assembly and expression,” said Hichilema. “Clearly, due to their corruption, injustices and unprecedented debt crisis, the PF has shown that it will even start following citizens in their homes and arrest them for expressing themselves over things going wrong in our country. Is that what Zambians want?”