Church leaders strongly rebuke Zambian President Edgar Lungu

2017-06-17 Vatican Radio

Alarmed by a rapidly deteriorating human rights and political climate in Zambia, the three leading Christian Church bodies, known in Zambia, as the “three Church Mother bodies” on Friday issued a strongly worded public statement, at a press conference, critical of Zambian President, Edgar Lungu's leadership. The Zambian Church leaders called for the immediate release of Zambia’s main opposition political leader, Hakainde Hichilema (popularly known as HH) whom President Lungu has confined in a maximum security prison, even before trial for an alleged treason charge, is determined. 

The three Church mother bodies comprise the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB); the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) which represents Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches as well as the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ). CCZ is the umbrella body for Protestant Churches and Church-related organisations that traditionally are also members of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The statement by the Church leaders is a stinging rebuke to President Lungu and demonstrates a show of solidarity that has recently been missing among Zambia’s Church leaders. It also underscores frustration with the Zambian President, Edgar Lungu’s vindictive style of leadership.

“Yes, we in the Church Leadership are not repentant; Zambia eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship. The fact of the matter is that only leadership that does not have the will of the people on its side or thinks it does not have the will of the people on its side uses state institutions to suppress that same will of the people,” the Church leaders said. In essence, they were backing an earlier statement of Zambian Catholic Bishops that labelled President Lungu as a dictator. Zambia has in the past been known as a relatively peaceful and stable democracy.

There is not much love lost between President Lungu and the leader of the main opposition UPND party, Hichilema. When the latter did not give way to the President’s motorcade in April, this year, Lungu unleashed the full force of Zambia’s state machinery against Hichilema. He has since imprisoned the opposition leader and charged him with treason. It is an offence that carries a death sentence. Amnesty International says the treason charges against the opposition UPND president Hichilema are designed to harass, intimidate and deter him from doing his political work.

Jointly presented to the media, the statement issued by the Church leaders is signed by Lusaka Archbishop and President of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Telesphore Mpundu;  Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) President, Bishop Alfred Kalembo and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Board Chairperson, Bishop Paul Mususu. Archbishop Mpundu told the media that efforts for behind the scenes diplomacy failed as President Lungu declined to meet the clerics. 

In the statement of the Church leaders, the Zambia Police Service is singled out for its lack of professionalism and brutality.

“The indictment of the Police Service as being unprofessional was not invented by the three Church Mother Bodies; it is found written in black and white in the judgment of Magistrate Greenwell Malumani which tells us that the conduct of the Police in this case was not in line with the law and Police Professional ethics! Quoting the learned Judge, the Episode ‘exposed the Police’s incompetence, unprofessionalism and criminal behaviour in the manner they handled the arrest of Hakainde Hichilema,’” reads the statement, in part.  

The Church leaders further criticise diminishing freedoms in Zambia: A growing culture of intimidation by state agents; worsening human rights situation and in particular, the erosion of press freedom. They give the closure of Zambia’s leading independent newspaper, ‘The Post’ as an example to back their assertions. They have called on President Lungu's government to initiate national dialogue as a way out of the political impasse. 

Predictably, President Lungu’s supporters took to social media to vent their anger against the Church leaders though the majority of citizens seemed relieved that the Church was taking a strong moral stand against injustice and the authoritarian style of President Lungu’s government. 

(Email: engafrica@vatiradio.va)

(See the full text of the Public Statement by the Church leaders below)

A STATEMENT BY THE THREE CHURCH MOTHER BODIES ON THE STATE OF THE NATION

 “The Truth will Set You Free” (John 8:32)

 1. We the leaders of the three Church Mother Bodies namely: the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) are saddened at the continued state of political tension in the country and the blatant lack of political will by our leaders to address the root causes of what is obtaining. As Church leaders who have a God-given mandate of exercising the prophetic mission in our nation and in our time, we cannot afford to simply stand aside and look. Our country today stands at the crossroads and we are in a crisis. We face many challenges related to governance; the muzzling of people’s freedoms and human rights violations. As Zambians, we all need to examine our conscience, seek the truth and work towards bringing back hope to our people.

2. We are also mindful of the timely message of Prophet Micah: “What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We strongly believe that more than ever before, our political leaders need to pay heed to this message and put it into practice.

3. As the three Church Mother Bodies, we have always said that our prophetic voice on national issues is only motivated by our wish to see the Government do better and succeed. It is in that spirit that we have for several weeks engaged State House officials and sought an appointment to meet the President, Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. Our aim was to bring to his attention, some national issues that are of great concern to the Church. Now that we have not been allowed to succeed along that path, we have decided to issue this statement to let the powers-that- be and the people of Zambia know our position on what is happening in the nation.

 Zambia Motorcade Treason and Plot!

 4. Actions by the government of President Edgar Lungu in imprisoning the opposition leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema are viewed with growing amazement and alarm. Hakainde Hichilema’s arrest for treason was at first dismissed as an intimidatory gimmick by President Lungu after the so-called “clash of the motorcades”. Hichilema was arrested on 10th April 2017; and days behind bars for Hichilema have turned into weeks and now months (2) for the leader of the opposition UPND. In addition, the view that President Lungu is creating a new dictatorship is fast gaining ground as was expressed in the statement issued by ZCCB on 23rd April 2017 that, “The country is in all, except in designation a dictatorship and if it is not yet, then we are not far from it.” With the current state of affairs, it is difficult to see how the UPND can easily recognize the legitimacy of Lungu’s re-election in August 2016.

 5. Hichilema has been in custody since he was arrested in a late night raid on his home by heavily armed Police Service personnel who used unprecedented force and brutality in apprehending just one unarmed citizen. The State Police brought along dogs of the German shepherd breed that defecated in the vehicle meant to carry Hakainde Hichilema. Under whose instructions were the police behaving in that way? The Inspector General or his Commander in Chief?

 6. In this country, only senior citizens well over 60 years can remember the British Colonial Administration using dogs on us Africans. It was unthinkable that a Zambian Government would sink so low as to unleash dogs on its own people. The British have been gone for 53 years now but we are still using the same tactics to intimidate our own people. It is true then that oppressed people just take on the behavior and style of their oppressors. Are we liberated as a nation or are we still mentally chained in the ways of our former rulers that include the One-Party dictatorship of 1973-1991?

 7. Outrage over Hichilema’s arrest and incarceration is growing within and outside our country: The USA, European Union, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa (where two opposition leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance have voiced their outrage). Even Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change has sharply criticized Lungu’s actions because it sees the similarities with their own political leaders across the Zambezi.

 8. The present PF Administration is avoiding to address the root causes of the present political crisis and tension in this country. Leadership, particularly at national level, requires integrity, truthfulness, honesty and sincerity. We believe that the political leadership has failed on this score. “The Truth will set you free,” so says our Lord Jesus Christ (John 8:32). There is no substitute for the Truth. There cannot be national reconciliation and healing through manipulation of truth. The kind of leadership we have now is the one that allows law breaking as long as it benefits the powers that-be. If this is not dictatorship, then what is it?

 9. The political leadership must admit that the situation in the country is characterized by tension; the country is polarized. The politicians of the Administration must not ignore what is obtaining in Zambia today; it is a contest between good and evil. The Church through its leaders is determined to stand on the side of good. We are fully aware that more often than not, the fight for Justice is not a path filled with many pilgrims, but is a lonely journey by courageous leaders and a small number of followers. It is often repeated that all evils needs to thrive is silence from good people. It does not matter that only the Church raises the voice or just one leader in the Church raises his voice. The fact remains that the state of the nation today is exactly what the Church says it is, namely, a dictatorship in which force and violence are used to intimidate the population and subdue opposition of any kind by means of institutions such as the Police, ZRA, the Judiciary and the Legislature, among others. Those holding public office are now used to violate human rights of individuals and groups of people, especially those perceived to be opposed to the political establishment.

 10. Institutional violence is a fundamental measure of a dictatorship. This is why the ZCCB stated that “the political environment in Zambia today is characterized by manipulation, patronage and intimidation of perceived government opponents. We urge the government to stop using state security institutions to intimidate its own nationals. The Police Service in particular must be professional and impartial in carrying out their duties of maintain law and order” (Cf. Pastoral Statement of the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC), Issued on Thursday, 23rd January 2015, #5.1).

 11. Yes, we in the Church Leadership are not repentant; Zambia eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship. The fact of the matter is that only leadership that does not have the will of the people on its side or thinks it does not have the will of the people on its side uses state institutions to suppress that same will of the people.

 12. It is short sighted to proclaim that the closure of the Post Newspaper does not constitute lack of press freedom. Yet it is an indicator to the disposition of the powers-that-be. We Church leaders maintain that the presence of 80 radio stations, online newspapers and independent television stations in Zambia does not mean press and media freedom. Media and press freedom is about journalists and media institutions doing their work without fear, intimidation and threats; it is about news editors publishing and airing what they judge as newsworthy for public good, especially in holding public officers to account. It is about upholding democratic governance that gives public and civil society institutions the chance to play their rightful role of providing checks and balances to the political establishment without looking over their shoulders for fear of closure, arrest or attack. Media freedom borders on the UNDHR Article 19 which says among other things that “every person has a right to make his or her mind, to think what they like, to say what they think and to share their ideas with people in any way they feel befitting.” What happened to MUVI TV? It was closed after the August 2016 elections and there was such a massive presence of the police immediately following the Mongu Presidential Motorcades Saga that MUVI TV was not allowed to report on that incident. What happened to the Post? It was fixed as the President had promised! What happened to Komboni Radio and Itezhi-tezhi Radio? What happened to Post Newspaper Journalist Peter Sukwa and his counterpart Kelvin Phiri from Feel Free Radio in Chipata at the hands of PF sponsored thugs in Eastern Province? If these are not signs of dictatorship, what are they signs of? Certainly not of a democratic dispensation!

 13. It is a fallacy to postulate that the arrest of one man cannot make this country into a dictatorship. We in the Church leadership think otherwise. It is not the numbers of the afflicted victims that count. It is the principle. Theft is theft whether one is dealing with One Kwacha or a Billion Kwacha. It is how state institutions and agents apply the law when dealing with “one of the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 25:31-46). The dictum that God knows how to count only up to one when it comes to his children is the truth that makes us realize just how each one of us is important in God’s eyes because we are all children. That we should treat one another no less than God himself treats us is the evergreen litmus test which defines how civilized society is!

 14. The indictment of the Police Service as being unprofessional was not invented by the three Church Mother Bodies; it is found written in black and white in the judgment of Magistrate Greenwell Malumani which tells us that the conduct of the Police in this case was not in line with the law and Police Professional ethics! Quoting the learned Judge, the Episode “exposed the Police’s incompetence, unprofessionalism and criminal behavior in the manner they handled the arrest of Hakainde Hichilema.”

 15. After he was arrested, Hakainde Hichilema was subjected to inhuman treatment. He refused to go into the police vehicle littered with dog faecal matter which the Police wanted to use to transport him and his co-accused; at Lilayi Police Compound, he was illegally and allegedly tortured without access to beddings even though the law says one is innocent until proved guilty by courts of law. Weeks before the Mongu Presidential “Motorcade Saga,” a State Agent Kampyongo and a PF Agent Mumbi Phiri clearly told the nation at different occasions that HH would be charged with treason and treated like a rat in the process. True to their words, HH was arrested on a treason charge in a manner that cannot be said to be human because it violated both his constitutional and human rights. Now Hakainde Hichilema has been transferred to the Maximum Security Prison even though he has not been pronounced guilty after the due process of the law. He was tied like a dog because he refused to go. HH is not an ordinary criminal but a political prisoner who should be treated with respect. We therefore call for the release of HH from prison. If he is charged with Treason, an un-bailable offence, let him be under house arrest as the trial goes on instead of treating him as if he has already been found guilty. Our thoughts and prayers also go to other political prisoners who are innocently suffering in several Correctional Centres. History has an uncanny knack of repeating itself. The first Republican President with some of his famous/fellow freedom fighters were imprisoned and restricted to remote areas by the colonial administrators. In fact, the option of house arrest and restriction to defined areas was pursued by the Kaunda and Chiluba regimes and could have been considered by the present regime. That notwithstanding, the late President Chiluba was imprisoned by President Kenneth Kaunda. President Chiluba later threw President Kaunda into maximum security prison and he had to be rescued by late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere! Late President Micheal Sata was thrown into Chimbokaila Prison by President Mwanawasa. Mwanawasa did not live long enough to be thrown into prison by Michael Sata. However, the historical reconciliation between President Mwanawasa and Michael Sata still ring fresh in our memories. Today, we have HH thrown into maximum prison by President Lungu; we leave it to you to guess what the future is likely to be!

 16. The crux of the matter is that the UPND challenged the Presidential Election Result as provided for in the Zambian Constitution but the petition was not heard due to a technicality. On the other hand, the PF are demanding that the UPND must accept the presidency which they challenged in the first place. Since the matter was not heard in court and is now out of court, this impasse can only be resolved by using an open, sincere and respectful dialogue, with both parties open to discussion and compromise where necessary, for the sake of this country and the future of our children. Intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, even the State of Emergency promised us by the President cannot succeed in diffusing the political tension we have put ourselves in, thanks to the intransigence of our political leaders! We appeal to both the Party in the government and the Opposition to put the interest of our great country above their own.

17. Indeed, what has happened to us as a nation? Where are our values as human beings and as Christians? Is this what it means to be a “Christian Nation”? How can we celebrate the incarceration of one of our own flesh and blood being taken to a maximum prison even before he is found guilty and keep quiet? We in the Church leadership feel for HH, for his young children, for his wife, relatives and friends. The pain they feel is ours and it is also the pain of the entire nation, whether we like to admit or not. Not only that, we are greatly concerned that the inhumane treatment of some of our nationals is likely to poison the next generation.

 18. All the three Church Mother Bodies (CCZ, EFZ and ZCCB) have prison ministries whereby we visit prisons and attend to the spiritual needs of the convicts. We do it not because we condone their actions or their wrong doing. We do it because they are our fellow human beings; they are our sisters and brothers. We do it because it is a biblical requirement on our part as our Lord Jesus reminds us: “I was in prison and you came to see me” (Matthews 25:35-37;42-43). Everyone, convicts included, deserves our love, compassion and support, not condemnation, for the only one who has the power to condemn, God, does not condemn but redeems us and loves us into life. As Christians, one fundamental value we should cherish and keep nourishing is compassion for those going through hard times regardless of our relationship with them. Hatred is the exact opposite of Christianity.

19. In this nation, where has compassion and solidarity with the suffering gone? What does it mean to be a Christian Nation? Why do we take pleasure in the misfortune of others? We harbor hatred and resentment against each other and waste a lot of time and energy in a sickening destruction of each other instead of building one another. Let us use this negative energy in acknowledging, appreciating our rich diversity of tribes and cultures, and building each other to the stature of a great One Zambia – One Nation. Tribalism is a cancer that can kill a nation if not constantly kept at bay. The political leadership has a sacred mandate to keep this nation united and must desist from statements that go to polarize people into ethnic groups that thrive on ethnic bigotry. We have only one country; let us cherish and support one another for the greater glory of God.

 20. In conclusion, we demand that efforts be made to have an all inclusive National Indaba which should address the many challenges we are facing. We also demand that government takes the lead in organizing and effecting the proposed National Indaba. As we have stated before, the Church stands ready to mediate but is also open to other eminent and neutral persons mediating. Further, we expect H.E. Mr. Edgar C. Lungu, to act as Republican President whose aim is not only to protect the good of the members of his party (the PF), but also and more importantly, be the guardian of ALL ZAMBIANS, regardless of their political affiliation. We firmly believe that this nation can overcome all our current political differences through genuine dialogue aimed at true reconciliation and national building.

Signed:

Archbishop T-G Mpundu (ZCCB PRESIDENT)

Bishop Alfred Kalembo  (CCZ PRESIDENT)

Bishop Paul Mususu (BOARD CHAIRPERSON – EFZ)

Issued to the Press on Friday, 16th June 2017

 

 

(from Vatican Radio)