The Human Rights Commission has expressed grave concern at the continuing reports of gassing activities and the killing of people suspected of being behind the alleged ritual killings and gassing incidents.
HRC Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga noted that since reports of suspected ritual killings and gassing activities emerged, there has been a wide range of human rights violations and abuses which have adversely impacted on the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to property, freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and freedom of movement, among others.
Mr. Mwandenga further stated that the Commission is deeply saddened by reports of barbaric acts by some members of the public who dragged a patient out of a hospital bed at Mazabuka General Hospital and later set him ablaze on suspicion that he was linked to gassing activities.
He said there have been similar incidences reported in other parts of the country where innocent lives have been lost at the hands of members of the public who resort to beating, stoning and burning people alleged to be behind the ritual killings and gassing activities.
“The fundamental right to life is protected under Article 12 of the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia and no one may be arbitrarily deprived of his or her right to life,” Mr. Mwandenga explained.
He added that the right to life may be curtailed only under very strict and specific grounds permitted by the law which include the execution of a death sentence.
Mr. Mwandenga said unconfirmed reports indicate that a number of lives have been lost at the hands of law enforcement officers as well as angry members of the public meting out instant mob justice against persons suspected of carrying out ritual killings and gassing activities.
He said the Commission is particularly concerned at the continuing arbitrary loss of lives akin to extra-judicial killings involving State Agents, such as the alleged shooting by police officers of a pupil at Chazanga Primary School and the alleged shooting of a member of a neighborhood watch by officers of the Zambia Army in Mufulira district on the Copperbelt province.
“The Commission is equally disturbed by some unverified reports of unlawful killing of persons perceived to be involved in ritual killings and gassing incidents that have been reported in some parts of the country,” Mr. Mwandenga said.
The HRC Chairperson added that the continuing arbitrary loss of life, whether at the hands of law enforcement officers or members of the public, constitutes a gross violation of the right to life.
He further stated that the Commission is concerned at the continuing unlawful acts by members of the public who have resorted to blocking roads and harassing innocent members of the public as a way of expressing their anger and frustration at the alleged failure by the law enforcement officers to effectively deal with the prevailing insecurity in the country.
“The Commission strongly condemns the unlawful acts of blocking roads by angry mobs, such as what happened recently on Mufumbwe-Chavuma and the Mazabuka-Lusaka Roads, where motorists were being stopped and searched on suspicious of carrying materials allegedly used in gassing activities,” He said.
Mr. Mwandenga charged that such lawlessness and criminality are totally unacceptable and must not be allowed to continue.
Meanwhile, Mr Mwandenga said that while the Commission encourages the communities to be on high alert and work closely with the police in bringing to an end the prevailing insecurity and distressing situation in the country, it does not condone individuals taking the law into their own hands and abusing human rights.
He said those carrying out unlawful acts and abusing human rights on the pretext of taking measures to respond to the atrocious acts of gassing households or suspected ritual killings should know that they would be held criminally responsible if and when they are arrested.
Mr Mwandenga has however commended the joint efforts of the Police and other State agencies and security wings aimed at putting to an end the gassing activities adding that the law enforcement agencies will move quickly to restore order and the rule of law in the country by taking all necessary measures to ensure that life and property are protected while people are allowed to freely exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms.
And the Commission Chairperson has also called upon the police to conduct prompt and thorough investigations into the reported cases of arbitrary loss of life and property in order to ensure that perpetrators, be it law enforcement officers or members of the public, are identified, arrested and subjected to the due process of the law.
Mr Mwandenga urged the police to ensure that persons who have been detained in connection with the gassing incidents are dealt with in accordance with Article 18 of the Constitution which, among other things, guarantees the presumption of innocence and fair trial within a reasonable time.