They say the more things change, the more they stay the same and this is true with the Zambia Police Service.
When President Michael Sata was in opposition he and his cadres used to be victims of a brutal police service at the hands of the then ruling MMD but when he was elected as president just over eight months ago, he made a lot of changes in the police, among them naming a female inspector general of police, creating 10 positions of commissioners equivalent to the number of provices, six of whom were women. Zambians thought this was the turning point for the police service. Today, however, the same brutality is being meted on the opposition.
Recently, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) took to the streets to protest against the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mutembo Nchito, whose airline, Zambian Airways in liquidation, allegedly owes the government-run Development Bank of Zambia over K14 billion or US$2 million. It is the result of the litigation of this case that one Supreme Court Judge and two high court judges were suspended and a tribunal set up to investigate them.
The Zambia Police Service under the command of Lusaka Province commissioner Charity Katanga who had warned the UPND that they would hold the demonstration at their own peril, battered the cadres who took to the streets of the capital city.
Netizens took to various social media networks to condemn police action with one warning that Ms Katanga would be the first Zambian official to be hauled before the International Criminal Court.
The Zambia Bulletin, a citizen run news website, quoting a Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) official, reported:
‘’We are particularly surprised that the commissioner of police for Lusaka province conducted herself like a highly rewarded cadre in the way she came out regarding the demonstration and the illegal orders she was giving to her officers to brutally attack the youths who were protesting yesterday’’
That she would not allow demos without her permission and those intending to demonstrate without a permit will meet her in the battle field. Battle field? Citizens exercising their right to assembly and free expression are to be met by the police on the battlefield?
The Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID) issued a statement condemning police heavy handedness in dealing with the unarmed demonstrators:
The Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) wishes to express its concern over the brutal manner in which the police handled a peaceful demonstration by unarmed members of the opposition United Party for National Development. The violence exhibited by the police towards unarmed citizens was not only uncalled for but also excessive. The Zambian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to expression. It is not debatable in all progressive democracies that peaceful demonstrations are an acceptable mode of expression. The police in this case must not make it a habit to stifle people’s rights with impunity and arrogance.
Kay Love, commenting on a story on the Zambian Watchdog website, called for the indictment of Ms Katanga by the ICC:
[…]Take this Katanga to the International Court of Crimes(ICC) so that she can be taught what justice is.
Katanga woman, you have broken our faith,trust and hearts to brutaly torture the an [sic] armed youths.
Why would you even deny them a permit when they clearly stated that they were going to protest against Mr Nchito?
I total agree, this woman should be taken to ICC as soon as possible so that she can be set as an example for disrespecting the right of an armed citizens to hold peaceful protests.
May God look into your sins Ms Katanga for shedding blood of innocent youths.
[..] The ICC will deal with you as individuals Ms Katanga and all those police who used force of violence. You have shed innocent blood and its in your hands for the rest of your life.
I even wonder what you will explain to God on judgement day. If you won’t go to heave, we ask where you will be?
Mwanza Zycall, contributing on the Zambia People’s Parliament Facebook page, wrote:
Mr Speaker Sir, the brutality of the PF government against unarmed sons and daughters of this great country just goes to show how much we need a 50% + 1 clause in the election of a president.
Mr Speaker, we have a minority government representing just about 43% of Zambians and in order to rule over the 57% who do not want it, it resorts to violence, unleashing party thugs dressed in police uniforms to brutalise unarmed peaceful civilians seeking to exercise their right to protest.
Mr Speaker, when a government resorts to using violence against its own citizens it shows how unpopular and scared it is of citizens.
By this very act, the unpopular tribal regime has passed a vote-of-no confidence in itself. I beg to move Mr Speaker.
Tweeps also took to the micro-blogging site to vent their anger against police brutality.
Another tweep was disgusted that anybody could justify the brutality the police unleashed on unarmed citizens:
One tweep reported the battering of a journalist at the same protest march:
*Thumbnail image: One of the three suspended judges, High Court Judge Philip Musonda. Photo courtesy of statehouse.gov.zm.