Friday, November 14, 2008

Riots rock Kitwe

Riots rock Kitwe
Written by Speedwell Mupuchi, Mutuna Chanda, Zumani Katasefa and Abigail Chaponda
Friday, November 14, 2008 8:10:04 AM

SCORES of Kitwe residents yesterday demonstrated against the arrest of Radio Icengelo station manager Fr Frank Bwalya, bringing business in the city centre to a virtual standstill. And Fr Bwalya has said repression in the country will not work.

Meanwhile, Ndola Catholic Diocese Bishop Noel O'Regan has said Fr Bwalya's arrest was an infringement of his right to freedom of speech. The demonstrations, which started off on a peaceful note, turned violent as police officers fired teargas to disperse the demonstrating residents.

The demonstrations started around 09:00 hours when taxi drivers started honking around town.

They were joined by youths in Kitwe who started running from one street corner to another while chanting, "we want change, we want change."

The youths, who were in a jovial mood, and other people mainly street children plotted to take advantage of the situation to steal.

There was commotion, especially around Chisokone area as the chanting youths run around.

Later, some of the youths started burning tyres on the roads and also blocked the streets with logs, stones, chairs, benches and whatever object they lay their hands on.

Other youths, especially street children emptied refuse bins on the streets.

Later, police received a report that some people had broken into Bata Shoe Company and Zambeef shops and immediately officers were deployed in town to control the situation.

The police officers fired teargas to disperse the people from town.

The central business district was by 14:00 hours virtually deserted as many people run for safety to their homes.

Shop owners, marketeers and street vendors alike left town for safety.

At Chisokone market, people damaged Olympic Milling outlet where, according to the director John Samaras, they looted bags of mealie-meal.

More than 20 youths were arrested in the operation to restore order in the city and residential areas.

And police sources said angry residents apprehended and beat up four police officers at Chisokone Market.

Police officers continued patrolling in town to maintain order.

Police also pursued some buses into residential areas.

An eye-witness, who did not want to be named said a minibus, a Toyota Hiace registration number ACK 9733, which was being chased by paramilitary officers overturned on Kuomboka Drive, injuring an elderly man.

"I was on Kuomboka Drive [Parklands] and I saw a minibus cruising from the direction of town. Immediately the bus bypassed me, it overturned once and about nine people scampered. The paramilitary officers who were chasing the bus started chasing the people but since they did not catch anyone, they returned to the bus and found me rescuing the old man," narrated the eyewitness.

The eyewitness said police got the old man who appeared to have sustained an injury in the bus.

In Chimwemwe township, police officers fought running battles with people who had blocked roads and streets using various objects.

People lit tyres on most of the roads.

The irate residents also attacked Chimwemwe police station and damaged window panes at National Savings and Credit Bank (NATSAVE) branch in Chimwemwe. The people also damaged a Toyota Corona registration number ACH 3394 belonging to NATSAVE.

The residents stoned the police officers who were trying to control the situation.

The tense situation in Kitwe started building up on Wednesday night after Fr Bwalya's arrest and detention at Kalulushi Police Station.

In Ndola, a group of people conducted a peaceful demonstration to show their support for Fr Bwalya.

The people, mostly PF supporters, chanted solidarity slogans and vowed that people would not be cowed into submission.

The residents said they demonstrated peacefully to show people that they were not happy with Fr Bwalya's arrest.

In Kalulushi, scores of people went to the police station to see Fr Bwalya in cells before he was released at 11:33 hours in the company of his lawyer, Mwila Chitabo of Chitabo Chiinga Associates, Catholic Church and Patriotic Front officials.

Among those who went to see Fr Bwalya included Kalulushi district commissioner Joshua Mutisa and his Lufwanyama counterpart Evans Pwele.

Mutisa told Fr Bwalya that he went to see him upon being informed that he had spent the night in the cells.

Fr Bwalya responded that he had slept well and joked that he did not cause any confusion in the morning because he did not enter the police cells while drunk.

And when he was taken out of Kalulushi Police Station, scores of people, mainly PF supporters, held their fists up and lifted Fr Bwalya shoulder high.

Police officers had a tough time controlling the people and had to trail behind the crowd as they carried him into a van.

However, police officers later managed to control the situation and took Fr Bwalya to his lawyer's vehicle, which they also boarded to Kitwe district police head office.

From Kalulushi police station, the people who were mainly a mix of PF supporters and Catholic Church members led the vehicle, which Fr Bwalya boarded to Kitwe.

The public minibuses and some private ones as well as vehicles belonging to the Catholic Church that carried people from Kalulushi, dictated the pace at which the convoy escorting Fr Bwalya moved.

People sat on the edges of the windows of their vehicles and held out their fists shouting "we want change."

All traffic to Kalulushi had to give way to the convoy in which Fr Bwalya was.

As the convoy approached KMB and Chisokone Market, scores of youths on the side of the road waved their fists and demanding change.

When Chitabo managed to break out of the convoy, his vehicle sped off to Kitwe district police station.

At the police station, police, some in riot gear and carrying teargas canisters, formed a cordon on Kantanta Street some five metres away from the police station on both sides to prevent the crowd that was approaching from entering the police premises.

Fr Bwalya was at the police district headquarters for over an hour.

When he was finally released on bond, Fr Bwalya said repression would not work.

Fr Bwalya vowed he would not be silenced and that he would continue talking about the truth.

He was charged with publishing articles intended to bring divisions between communities between November 1 and 12, 2008 through special post-election radio programmes that he hosted on Radio Icengelo.

Fr Bwalya, visibly in high spirits, further appealed to Zambians not to be violent because his cause was for the truth and not violence. This was in the midst of police firing teargas canisters and trying to force people out of the city centre to quell a potentially violent situation.

Fr Bwalya said he had been charged for issuing statements alleging that the elections were fraudulent and that the current President was not legitimately elected.

He said he had been formally arrested and that he was released on bond.

Fr Bwalya said he had pleaded not guilty to the charges and that he would state his case in court.

He said as a priest, he would not want to incite violence among the people and that if he did so he would have resigned.

Asked about the people that were looting some shops in the city, Fr Bwalya said there was need for people to be peaceful and safeguard the country.

"Whoever is doing that is doing a wrong thing. This is our country we need to safeguard it. There are a lot of things in this country, which are not right but they cannot be corrected by throwing a stone. They have to be corrected by smooth change because we need change in this country especially where laws are concerned, we need to work on the bad laws; the Constitution included," he said.

And addressing sympathisers who were awaiting his release outside the Kitwe district police head office, Fr Bwalya said he was aware that people were worried about his life.

However, Fr Bwalya said he was well and there was strength in his spirit despite having slept in police cells.

Fr Bwalya noted that laws that were corrupt only had a place in a dust bin and that those that could be worked on should be reviewed.

"I have been saying that the change we are asking for can come at a much cheaper price if people cooperate. Some people think they don't want to cooperate and they think that the best way to silence us people who are speaking out is repression," Fr Bwalya said. "Repression cannot work. This is a free country. We are independent, we are supposed to determine our own destiny and let people speak out. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right."

Fr Bwalya further said his programmes on Radio Icengelo would continue running.

He also thanked the people that supported his cause and urged everyone to remain calm and not engage in violence.

After Fr Bwalya's release, his lawyer, Mwila Chitabo said Fr Bwalya had been charged under section 13 of the Public Order Act for publishing articles intending to bring divisions between communities between November 1 and 11, 2008.

Chitabo said the type of offence required the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for the case to take off.

And addressing reporters at his office earlier yesterday, Bishop O'Regan requested the police to bring charges against him or to release him from custody.

"The arrest of Fr Bwalya is seen as an infringement of his right to freedom of speech. Truth itself is the real prisoner. I call upon Zambia Police to release him without delay," he said.

Bishop O'Regan commended Fr Bwalya for the non-partisan way in which Radio Icengelo covered the recent Presidential elections despite the short notice and lack of resources.

"I am glad to report that Fr Bwalya is well and has been professionally treated by the police. Please remain calm, there is no need to travel to Kalulushi. Let us continue in prayer," Bishop O'Regan said.

Fr Bwalya was on Wednesday afternoon arrested by the police and held overnight for questioning at Kalulushi Police Station after conducting a special live post-elections programme.

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