Respected law professor Muna Ndulo has charged that Zambia under the PF government is degenerating into a police state.
He highlighted the recent death of a ZAF officer and the arrest of UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema as some of the recent events that point to a complete breakdown of the rule of law.
In a statement, Professor Ndulo who is Director Berger International Studies Program at Cornell Law School and Director, Cornell Institute for African Development said the Public Order Act is abused by the police and has become an instrument of oppression rather than policing.
He said, “If one had any doubts about Zambia’s slide into a police state, two recent events clearly debunk the doubt. A few weeks ago, Mark Nchimunya Choonga, was brutally killed in police custody. To begin with, the late Choongwa should never have been in police custody. How does one end up in police custody after a minor traffic accident? There has been no public condemnation of the police on this matter by the leadership and no one has been punished for the illegal detention of Choongwa.”
“Yesterday, the second event gave evidence of the degenerative slide towards a police state. Heavily armed police attacked Hakainde Hichilema and his family in their home. Before the attack, in an unprecedented act of thuggery, police switched off the electricity to the area where Hakainde’s house is located and plunged the area into total darkness,” he said.
Below is Prof Ndulo’s full statement
POLICE BRUTALITY AND THE DECAY OF THE ZAMBIAN POLICE FORCE
Muna Ndulo (Professor, and Director Berger International Studies Program Cornell Law School and Director, Cornell Institute for African Development)
The Zambia is rapidly degenerating into a police state. Numerous citizens are detained in police stations without regard to their rights under the constitution. This has become commonplace as regular reports of beatings, torture and deaths in police custody seldom seem to elicit outrage. Zambians are becoming immune to the routine reports of police brutality. The Public Order Act is abused by the police and has become an instrument of oppression rather than policing.
The police arrogantly assert that only their interpretation of the act is valid. The constant show of and use of excessive force by the police is intended to create a climate of fear and obedience in the general population. Benefactors of the system align themselves with these instruments of fear and defend the police and show scant concern for the victims of police brutality and those whose rights are trampled upon by the police.
If one had any doubts about Zambia’s slide into a police state, two recent events clearly debunk the doubt. A few weeks ago, Mark Nchimunya Choonga, was brutally killed in police custody.
To begin with, the late Choongwa should never have been in police custody. How does one end up in police custody after a minor traffic accident? There has been no public condemnation of the police on this matter by the leadership and no one has been punished for the illegal detention of Choongwa.
Unashamedly, the police have been allowed to carry out what is clearly a cover up. Yesterday, the second event gave evidence of the degenerative slide towards a police state. Heavily armed police attacked Hakainde Hichilema and his family in their home. Before the attack, in an unprecedented act of thuggery, police switched off the electricity to the area where Hakainde’s house is located and plunged the area into total darkness. The police tear gassed and vandalized the house, broke doors and windows, stole whatever they could steal and caused a huge amount of damage to property in the house.
They assaulted whomever they came across in the compound and detained all of Mr. Hichilema’s workers. They did all this without a warrant and in complete disregard of the constitutionally protected rights of liberty and protection of property of a Zambian citizen.
In a shocking decision, after the end of the siege, the police announced treason charges against Hakainde.
Having served as Advisor to the UN in the South African transition period from 1992 to 1994, the behavior of the Zambia police brings to mind the illegal brute force used by the apartheid police to brutalize and pillage black communities in apartheid South Africa in the run up to the 1994 elections.
In the face of this shameful police brutality and serious violations of human rights to life and physical security, the Zambian government has remained mute and at times cheered the police on and made alarming statements about the need to fix Hichilema and his supporters.
Even more troubling is that this is happening at a time when the government is led by a lawyer who should be well acquainted with the rule of law and the concept of constitutionalism.
Zambia finds itself now in a situation where the police force, which should be the upholders of the law, are now agents of fear and intimidation. The primary purpose of the security forces has become to protect the ruling party, and the personal power of the president.
Policing skills in investigation, crowd control, protective and preventive action, have been sacrificed in response to the demands of political obedience, extortion and brutality. The rights of people holding contrary views to those of the ruling party are not respected.
The decay of law and order under the present Government has been matched by a sharp deterioration in the behavior of the police force, which perpetuates the decline.
The political role comes with demands by politicians and the influential to carry out visible crackdowns or arrest specific people. In a context where “quick” and politically defined results are expected and where corruption, obedience, and opportunism are entrenched in the security forces, the torture and humiliation of suspects has become a culture.
The Government is legally responsible for the death of Mark Nchimunya Choongwa and for the violation of Mr. Hachilema’s rights and damage to his property by state agents.
The police is not above the constitution and is not a law at to itself. Not in any state that claims to be a democracy.
The police must respect the rights of individuals as guaranteed by the constitution. All arms of state be it parliament or the executive must act within the terms of their legal authority.
The doctrine of legality is a constitutional requirement under which all institutions of the state including the police are regarded as having only those powers conferred on them by the constitution. The constitution is a charter of government and governs all state conduct.
It is a body of fundamental principles by which a society organizes a government for itself, defines and limits the powers of the government, and regulates the relations between several government organs inter se and defines the relations of the state with its citizens.
The aim of the rule of law is to limit and check the arbitrary, oppressive, and despotic tendencies of power, and to ensure the equal treatment and protection of all citizens irrespective of race, tribe, class, status, religion, place of origin, or political persuasion. It implies a legal framework that is fair, impartial, and that legitimizes state actions.
The idea of a constitutional democratic government, or constitutionalism, and the rule of law connote a government defined, regulated and limited by a constitution. Constitutional democracy is founded upon the notion of checks and balances, namely state institutions: the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive-while operating independently of one another, act to check each other’s operations and balance each other’s power.
In essence, all three institutions are duty bound to uphold the rule of law. A government operating under a written constitution has no more power than is granted to it by the constitution. Zambia cannot be allowed to descend into a nation of illegal actions by one arm of government while the rest remain silent and complicit.
Aggression by any part of government must be condemned by all, the government, the citizens, and those residing within our borders. This is the only way we can begin to restore Zambia.
As Aristotle so aptly put it “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.”