Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fr Bwalya’s arrest is a bad start for Rupiah – TIZ

Fr Bwalya’s arrest is a bad start for Rupiah – TIZ
Written by Nicholas Mwale and Masuzyo Chakwe
Saturday, November 15, 2008 4:25:57 AM

TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) president Reuben Lifuka has said Radio Icengelo station manager Fr Frank Bwalya's arrest and detention is a bad way for President Rupiah Banda to start his term of office.

And Caritas Zambia director Sam Mulafulafu said the arrest and detention of Fr Bwalya was the beginning of reprisals to media houses.

Commenting on Fr Bwalya's arrest and detention by the police in Kitwe, Lifuka yesterday said TIZ considered the act to be a serious violation of human rights and the freedom of expression that every Zambian should enjoy.

"Transparency International Zambia finds the arrest of Fr Frank Bwalya totally unacceptable and a blight on our democratic credentials as a country," Lifuka said. "Zambia is not a police state and we urge President Rupiah Banda to put his house in order because clearly, this is a bad way to start his term of office. We also find this to be a blatant intimidation of the media which unfortunately in the last few months has become fashionable."

Lifuka observed that it was also wrong for the Zambia Police to have denied Fr Bwalya access to his lawyers, as it was his constitutional right.

He said robust debate and the exchange of ideas was considered to be healthy in any mature democracy.

"In this instance, a post-election programme which analyses the outcomes of the 2008 presidential elections is timely and necessary," he said. "It is a reality that not every Zambian is happy with the outcomes of the elections. It is also common knowledge that the Copperbelt voted in a particular manner and people participating in a live phone in radio programme would be inclined to express themselves emotionally."

Lifuka said TIZ believed that Radio Icengelo was a professionally run radio station that would do everything possible to ensure that the callers did not defame or insult the political leadership but urge them to use moderate language in expressing their views.

"Against this background, we are totally disgusted by the unwarranted and heavy-handed approach of the Zambia Police Service and we want to warn them that such actions will in fact tarnish our reputation as a democratic country which is tolerant of divergent views," he said. "Additionally, Radio Icengelo belongs to the Catholic Church and it falls under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ndola Diocese.

Why is Zambia Police pursuing Fr Bwalya and not Bishop [Noel] O'Reagan who is the head of the Diocese?" Lifuka asked.

He explained that the intimidation would not deter Zambians from freely expressing themselves within the confines of the law.

"We have come a long way as a country from the second Republic where anyone who criticised government was considered to be the 'enemy of the state.' We should not allow ourselves to return to those inglorious days where we constantly had to watch over our shoulders. We should not be the enemies of democracy - and we urge all Zambians to condemn this action," Lifuka explained. "Today, it is Fr Bwalya being persecuted. Tomorrow it will be another person."

He urged leaders and senior police officers not to imagine that they would be in their positions forever.

"Tomorrow, they will need the protection of the same laws and rights that they are violating with impunity," he observed.

Lifuka said the action indicated that the only views that were legislated for in the country were those that present the ruling party and government in good light.

"Clearly, if Fr Bwalya had spent time praising and eulogising the MMD and its government, Zambia Police would not have acted in the manner that they did," observed Lifuka.

"This is a familiar scenario where we have previously seen MMD cadres demonstrating without a police permit and Zambia Police have done nothing. We have also heard MMD people threaten and incite the public but again, Zambia Police has not been moved to action. We condemn this selective interpretation of the law and we demand for the immediate release of Fr Bwalya."

And Mulafulafu said Zambia was a democracy and people should be free to discuss electoral issues.

"More so for the fact that we have just come from elections whose outcome has raised more questions than answers. Citizens should be free to exhaustively discuss these issues without the impediment of fear and intimidation. We shudder to think that the outcome of these elections is the beginning of a police state in Zambia," he said.

"We refuse to be intimidated and instead of government burying its head in sand, we advise those in leadership to deal with the many political questions that Zambians are asking about these elections and our electoral process."

He said people could not be bullied into compliance in the face of so much injustice.
"We recall the threats to the media issued by some MMD senior cadres during the campaigns and we see this as the beginning of reprisals to media houses critical of the shortcomings of the governing regime. We appeal for solidarity on this issue from all progressive civil society organisations and individuals because this action takes us many years back in our journey of democracy," he said.

Mulafulafu appealed to the Inspector General of Police not to turn the police service into a tool of oppression of innocent citizens.

Mulafulafu said as it currently stands, the Police Service had a great challenge of fighting the increasing crime rate in townships and this should give them enough work instead of harassing innocent citizens.

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