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Is LAZ being fair to police?

CHARLES CHISALA
THE dust of the skirmishes that erupted between the police and supporters of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) in Lusaka recently is yet to settle.
In the wake of the clashes the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has once again come under heavy flak from the government, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and other organisations for its seemingly partisan reaction to the violence.
Last Thursday, UPND cadres besieged the Lusaka High Court grounds during the hearing of their president, Hakainde Hichilema’s electoral petition case.
Mr Hichilema is still contesting the results of the August 11, 2016 presidential election won by President Edgar Lungu despite the opposition leader’s petition being thrown out by the Constitutional Court.
Mr Justice Mwila Chitabo had earlier adjourned the matter to December 15, 2016 and informed the parties that it would be heard in chambers.
But when the case came up in the judge’s chamber, the UPND bused droves of cadres to the court premises.
Some started illegally marching on Church road towards the courts to give solidarity to their leaders.
While the matter was being heard in chambers, the cadres, Mr Hichilema and his co-petitioner Geoffrey Mwamba (GBM), filled the courtroom to the brim where they expected to attend the open hearing.
They lost patience and started making noise. Some of them reportedly breached security and tried to force their way into the chamber where the matter was being heard while shouting but were restrained by police.
The cadres were demanding that the case be shifted from chambers to the open court. This was despite being fully aware that the petitioners’ lawyers were also in the chamber to represent their clients.
When Mr Justice Chitabo adjourned the matter to a later date the incensed cadres massed outside his chamber with the intention of forcing their way inside.
Another group of cadres surged towards the court’s entrance where Mr Hichilema and Mr Mwamba were standing so that the two leaders could address it.
When the police tried to restrain them, the cadres went on the offensive.
They physically attacked the officers pushing, pulling and pelting them with all kinds of objects, forcing the law enforcement officers to respond with tear gas to disperse the riotous mob.
But the cadres, mostly youths and women, became even more violent.
They broke doors and windows of the court complex and smashed windscreens of parked motor vehicles.
Police finally managed to subdue the rioters and apprehended over 40 of them.
Earlier, the police had stopped the illegal march on Church Road by another group of UPND cadres, who reacted by attacking innocent residents including a street vendor on Makishi Road whom they brutally battered.
The behaviour of the cadres was roundly condemned as a threat to peace and democracy.
LAZ came out the next day, heaping blame on the police accusing them of overreacting and repeated its call for professionalism.
After dragging the police over the thorns for using force to quell the riot the association’s president, Linda Kasonde, gave the UPND a feeble slap on the wrist.
She was cheered on by a leader of a well-known non-governmental organisation, a faithful UPND sympathiser.
L A Z ’s h a l f – h e a r t e d condemnation of the cadres’ misbehaviour came so late in Ms Kasonde’s statement that it was of little, if any, effect.
Some observers believed that the press briefing was in fact aimed at attacking the government. The incident had gifted the association with a chance.
But what has baffled some observers is the allegation by the country’s umbrella body for lawyers that the police provoked the cadres and that the law enforcers used live ammunition.
Surely, how would an average person interpret this stance by LAZ? Will they be blamed if they regard it as the defacto public relations arm of the UPND?
Did LAZ expect the police to kneel before the cadres and plead with them as they tried to force their way into Mr Justice Chitabo’s chamber and probably batter him?
Is the judge not a member of LAZ who deserves the organisation’s sympathy and support?
The association should conduct a survey on how police respond to such unruly behaviour in other African countries. Surely, the Zambia Police should be commended and encouraged instead of being vilified.
Few African governments would have allowed an opposition party to daily insult the head of state and dare the police the way the UPND has been doing.
The Thursday violence did not come as a surprise. The UPND has, through its crude propaganda machinery, been deceiving their supporters that on December 15, 2016 the Lusaka High Court was going to nullify the election of President Lungu and swear in Mr Hichilema as Zambia’s head of state.
This cheap misinformation had become the talk of the day. It had created misguided excitement and false hope among the ignorant members and symptahisers of the UPND in its strongholds and some of Lusaka’s high-density townships, especially Kanyama.
On the day of the rumpus some cadres were heard talking on phone within the High Court grounds urging their friends and relatives to be ready for celebrations as their president was about to be sworn in.
It is therefore clear that the violence the nation witnessed at the Lusaka High Court grounds on December 15, 2016 was not spontaneous.
One is tempted to suspect that it had been planned.
Against this background, the sentiments by LAZ are ruining its integrity and therefore threatening its existence.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail deputy news editor.

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