Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let Chiluba now attend trial

Let Chiluba now attend trial
By Editor
Wednesday May 30, 2007 [04:04]

The right to equality before the law is fundamental to any just and democratic society. Whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, political ally of the state or opponent – all are supposed to be equal before the law. The state cannot guarantee that life will treat everyone equally, and it has no responsibility to do so. However, under no circumstances should the state impose additional inequalities; it should be required to deal evenly and equally with all its people.

No one is above the law, which is, after all, the creation of the people, not something imposed on them. Citizens of a democracy submit themselves to the law because they recognise that, however indirectly, they are submitting to themselves as makers of the law. When laws are established by the people who then have to obey them, both the law and democracy are served.

This is the way we think the law should apply to Frederick Chiluba. There was the law that protected Chiluba from prosecution; he enjoyed a certain amount of immunity and could not easily be prosecuted unless this immunity was lifted.

In 2002 the presidential immunity which Chiluba enjoyed was lawfully removed and once this was done – as far as the prosecution was concerned – he was no different from any other person facing criminal charges. But Chiluba has been treated differently; he has been treated as a special accused person, enjoying special treatment and immense privileges that are not extended to any other citizens. And these privileges have no legal basis at all.

There are no laws which say a former president who is facing criminal charges should be treated differently from other accused persons. Chiluba himself did not treat other citizens like that. He did not treat those he had accused of plotting to overthrow his government in the same way.

The nation has not forgotten how Chiluba treated Princess Nakatindi Wina and the late Dean Mung’omba when he had falsely put them on treason charges. They both fell ill while in detention. But none of them was removed from custody to receive medical treatment. Princess Nakatindi needed specialised treatment abroad but it was denied her. But Chiluba is very lucky, everything that he asks for is given to him. The court can adjourn and wait for him for over a year without sitting. No other accused person has received this type of treatment in Zambia.

Teams of doctors are allowed to leave other patients and review Chiluba’s condition to determine whether or not he is fit to attend trial. This opportunity has been well exploited by Chiluba. But everything has got a time. The time has come for Chiluba to seriously get back to court and face trial on the charges against him. It’s good that the doctors, although not in a categorical way, have indicated that he can stand trial albeit with some special arrangements to suit his weak state.

However, this observation by the doctors is not binding on the court. It is only something the court may take into account, if it so desires, in deciding whether or not to proceed with Chiluba’s trial. The issue of Chiluba’s trial being held in privacy is an interesting one. First, what do the doctors mean by privacy? Do they mean that Chiluba’s trial should be held in-camera? If so, why shouldn’t people be allowed to attend his trial? What will be the effect of a public trial on him, on his health?

Sometime back, the prosecution had offered Chiluba a very good deal – a deal for him to attend court in his own house, using telecast facilities. But he rejected this. We hope this time this option will be favourably considered by the court, among other options, and make sure that this trial comes to an end; it can’t go on for ever and ever. If Chiluba doesn’t want to attend court and continues to come up with all sorts of excuses, medical or otherwise, the bail should be revoked and if he is ill he can be treated like other remand prisoners.

This report by the University Teaching Hospital doctors has now opened Chiluba for prosecution and it is up to the court to move on with the case. If need be an ambulance can be put outside court to deal with any emergencies. After all Chiluba has got a UTH doctor who goes with him to South Africa at huge government expense to watch him while he is being attended to by South African doctors. It will cost the government less to have him every day, or every time the court is sitting, by Chiluba’s side. Even a nurse can be mobilised to be by his side in court, in addition to his wife.

These special arrangements should not be a problem for the court to accept. What we are trying to show is that Chiluba’s trial could have easily gone on while he is receiving treatment, save for the time he is receiving treatment in South Africa. There is nothing wrong in adjourning for a week or two to allow him to have his heart attended to by ‘white’ doctors in Johannesburg. It’s okay for Chiluba to have white doctors in Johannesburg but not for him to have white judges in London.

After all apartheid has been removed from the face of that country but nothing seems to have been done to British colonialism. It’s okay to entrust one’s heart in the hands of doctors of former apartheid South Africa but not to accept litigation before a judge of former colonial Britain. It’s understandable; one has a choice on where to place one’s heart.

It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. The people of Zambia are seeking justice over their money, which they strongly believe Chiluba stole; they want him convicted and jailed for that crime. Chiluba’s illness should not be allowed to permanently impair this process. Poor health should not be used as an impermeable shield against trial.

Those who know that they are in poor health should not be allowed to commit crimes under the belief that they will not be tried because they are ill. If Chiluba is allowed to evade trial as a result of his illness then a very bad precedent will be set for our country.

The longer this trial is delayed, the less the chance for nailing Chiluba to the cross because key witnesses may die or, for one reason or another, disappear. We know this trick is often used by criminals who have no reasonable defence who would rather stay in remand prison without attending court in the hope that the longer their trial takes the higher the likelihood that witnesses will disappear or die and in the end they will go scot-free. The whole nation should not be taken on this well known path by Chiluba.

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