…. As they carpet Kampyongo and Kanganja over inciting police brutality

By Bennie Mundando

SEVEN local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have demanded that Zambian authorities must investigate killing of two people during a peaceful solidarity assembly to support United Party for National Development (UPND) president, Hakainde Hichilema.

The seven organisations are Amnesty International, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, Chapter One Foundation-Zambia, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Pan-African Lawyers Union, SADC Lawyers Association, and Advancing Rights in Southern Africa Programme- Freedom House.

Nsama Nsama, a state prosecutor who was buying a meal at a restaurant across his office, and Joseph Kaunda, a supporter of the opposition party who was walking nearby, were killed after police fired live ammunition to disperse Mr. Hichilema’s supporters during the peaceful solidarity gathering.

In a joint statement dated December 24, 2020, the seven NGOs have demanded that the Zambian Government must launch a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, and transparent investigation into the killings of the duo by security forces during a peaceful assembly to offer solidarity to Mr. Hichilema on December 23, 2020.

“The authorities must ensure that the outcome of any investigation is made public, that anyone suspected to be responsible for the killings of Nsama and Kaunda are brought to justice in fair trials and that the victims are granted access to justice and effective remedies including reparations. The Zambian Government has legal obligations to respect, protect, and promote human rights and to investigate any allegations of violations and bring to justice suspected perpetrators.

“The killings of Nsama and Kaunda and the police’s heavy-handed tactics to manage public gatherings speak to the growing levels of political intolerance and partisan policing in the country. It also demonstrates the contempt with which Zambian authorities continue to show total disregard for human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

“It is deeply concerning that live ammunition was used when there was no imminent threat to life or property. We call on the Zambian authorities to desist from excessive use of force and to invest in training law enforcement officers in crowd control methods that respect human rights and dignity,” reads the statement in part.

The NGOs have also condemned, in the strongest terms, the use of threatening and violent language by the Inspector General of Police, Kakoma Kanganja, and the Minister of Home Affairs, Stephen Kampyongo, who, ahead of Mr. Hichilema’s scheduled appearance, warned UPND supporters against accompanying their leader, stating that police would “deal decisively with all those who would want to cause public disorder” and use “any means necessary to maintain law and order”.

“This rhetoric has the potential to embolden police violence against defenceless people. We call on the Zambian authorities to end attacks on human rights and to allow people to freely exercise their human rights including to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. We also call on the international community to pay attention to the ongoing human rights violations in Zambia, and to put pressure on the authorities to end growing crackdown on human rights in the country.

“The fatal shootings of Nsama and Kaunda must not be seen in isolation; they are part of a wider crackdown on individuals’ rights to life, association, movement and public assembly in Zambia. In the last five years alone, several people have died at the hands of security forces or as a result of political violence without suspected perpetrators being identified and held criminally liable.

“As Zambia heads to what looks like a hotly contested general election next year, these violations may intensify or worsen, further stoking political tension and leaving the country on the cusp of large-scale violence,” reads the statement.

Mr. Hichilema, who is the main rival to President Edgar Lungu in Zambia’s August 2021 general election, was summoned by the police to appear for interrogations relating to a farmland he acquired in 2004, two years before he joined politics and was elected the party’s leader.

A small opposition party friendly to President Lungu, Economic and Equity Party (EEP), had filed a complaint against Mr. Hichilema, alleging irregularities in the procurement of the private land.

When Mr. Hichilema presented himself at the police headquarters, several UPND supporters gathered at the nearby Supreme Court grounds to offer him support. Moments later, armed police in full riot gear arrived at the site and used teargas canisters to disperse the peaceful crowd.

In the course of this action, gunshots were also fired, resulting in the death of Mr. Nsama and Mr. Kaunda.

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