Zambia, once promoted as a model for democracy in Africa, was distinguished by human rights abuses in the wake of a military coup attempt on October 28, 1997 when soldiers seized the national radio station in the governments Mass Media Complex. A few hours later Zambian army commandos stormed the complex, regained control, and captured the rebel soldiers. The following day, a state of emergency was declared by President Chiluba and a crackdown ensued on suspected accomplices in the coup attempt and leaders of the legal opposition. A number of opposition politicians were targeted, including Zambia Democratic Congress (ZDC) leader Dean Mungomba and, on December 25, ex-president and United National Independence Party (UNIP) leader Kenneth Kaunda.
Constitutional guarantees of many basic human rights were suspended in the months that followed the coup attempt. In early January 1998 the number of detainees peaked at 104 people; by September this had declined to seventy-six as detainees were gradually released.
Human Rights Watch received information that at least fourteen of the detainees, including Mungomba, were tortured or beaten by police while in detention in early November 1997, although the government does not acknowledge this. One of the detainees, Corporal Robert Chiulo, died on November 7 at Lusakas Maina Soko Military Hospital. The hospital said that he had died of malaria, but other medical sources at the hospital told us that he died of injuries resulting from torture and that a post mortem had not been done. Some of the detainees were reportedly tortured with the kampelwa (the swing), described as being suspended from a metal rod thrust between two tables, with hands handcuffed to the rod and rope binding their legs to it. Police officers reportedly beat them while they hung.
In late November Human Rights Watch sought to independently verify the allegations of torture but was denied access to the detainees. In March we gained access to two detainees, Kaunda and the ruling-Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) womens chair, Princess Nakatindi Wina, but failed again to gain access to most, although we monitored their presence in court. Amnesty International was also denied access to most of the detainees in April, although it too gained access to Kaunda.
Charges were dropped against UNIP leader Kenneth Kaunda and his head of security, Moyce Kaulungombe on June 1. Kaundas release followed a deal struck between the government and his family in which Kaunda was to agree to retire from politics. On July 3, Kaunda told a UNIP Central Committee meeting that he would leave domestic politics.
In July Human Rights Watch monitored the treason trials progress and was able to meet in court with Dean Mungomba, who said he had been tortured and that he was being treated for TB which he contracted in prison. A number of other detainees in this case have collapsed in court due to illness brought about or exacerbated by poor remand prison conditions.
The government-appointed Permanent Human Rights Commission submitted a report to the government on March 30, naming several individuals who detainees say were torturers. They included, police chief Teddy Nondo, who on June 25 was confirmed as Drug Enforcement Deputy Commissioner. The reports key recommendation was: Immediate retirement in the public interest of officers involved in torture of detained or remanded persons and, reflecting the HRCs semi-official status, that the authorities work out a retirement package for such officers.
In a positive move, the government announced on August 11 that it had set up an independent commission of inquiry to probe into allegations of torture of the suspects in the failed 1997 coup and appointed High Court Judge Japhet Banda to head it, although he will only take up the post when the trial of the coup suspects has ended. In another welcome move, the cabinet in August approved the ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The state of emergency was also marked by restrictions of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association and by prolonged arbitrary detentions. Lawyers defending detainees linked to the coup attempt were harassed by police. Robert Simeza, Dean Mungombas lawyer, was harassed in early November 1997: he received anonymous phone calls, his supermarket business was raided, and he was aggressively followed until he complained to the inspector general of police. Mwangala Zaloumis and Sakwiba Sikota, lawyers defending Kenneth Kaunda also alleged police harassment in January.
During this period the police acted in an arbitrary manner, allowing progovernment rallies to be held but banning opposition or independent demonstrations. NGOs also had their requests for parade permits turned down. A request by civic leaders for authorization of a march to mark Human Rights Day, December 10, 1997, was also turned down by the police. Police Service Commissioner Wynter Kabwiku said the planned march could not take place due to the current security situation in the country.
Freedom of expression was also curtailed by the state of emergency and there was harassment of journalists. On January 2 police physically assaulted and attempted to seize a camera from a CNN camera crew. A few days later, on January 6, four reporters -from Reuters, Agence France Press, Pan African News Agency, and the Zambia Daily Mail - were prevented by police from covering part of the Kaunda case because the court room, including the press gallery, was reportedly full, although other journalists inside the court disputed this. State journalists that were working at the time of the coup were also brought under scrutiny and a number lost their jobs.
In May, Zambia Daily Mail reporter Joy Sata faced disciplinary action by the paper after stating on a television discussion show that this government-owned newspaper practiced a policy of censoring stories critical of the government. Zambia Daily Mail acting news editor Justine Mwiinga was a few days previously indefinitely suspended for leading an editorial protest against the managements decision to limit coverage of the October 28, attempted coup.
The state of emergency was extended on January 29, 1998 but lifted on March 17, following strong E.U. and U.S. donor protest and a clear message from the World Bank that a consultative group meeting could only occur once the state of emergency ended. President Chiluba announced that the measure was intended to assure the outside world that Zambia was a democratic country.
Human rights abuses declined after the lifting of the state of emergency, but there remained areas of concern including extraordinary tax demands made against opposition leaders. Soon after Pastor Nevers Mumba declared in late 1997 that he was considering contesting the 2001 presidential elections as the candidate of the National Citizens Coalition, the Zambian Revenue Authority issued him a tax demand for around U.S. $1.5 million, a figure backdated to 1993 based on the income of the church he heads, Victory Ministries International, which like other churches had been tax exempt.
Reports of police brutality continued in the urban areas. Cases of illegal detention, torture in cells, killings, and custodial rape occurred during the year. On May 27, police officers picked up Steward Mwantende with four other suspects in connection with house breaking and burglaries in Mindolo Police Camp. For two days Mwantende was subjected to severe beatings by interrogating officers, he was also burned between his legs before dying of multiple injuries. In this case the Human Rights Commission acted and seven police officers reportedly involved were arrested in July in connection with the killing.
Conditions in Zambias prisons for the average daily population of 12,500 inmates remained a serious concern. Most of these prisons, especially in urban areas, were overcrowded, with a growing prison population.
Kabwe prison, built for 300, had 528 inmates. It had a serious water problem and only fifteen toilets. Conditions appeared little better in Mukobeko maximum security prison, which had over 800 inmates, including those condemned to death. Those held on death row increased in 1998 to over 150, all of them held in small two meter square cells. Some convicts had been on death row for over twenty years, and none know whether they were scheduled for execution. The last execution was in January 1997, when eight condemned prisoners were hanged.
Mukobeko also lacked provisions to isolate sick prisoners with communicable diseases thereby increasing the risk of illness spreading quickly. On September 17, Judge Japhet Banda, who presided over the treason trial, threatened to release the accused on bail if the state did not improve the appalling prison conditions at the prisons they were kept. A chronic respiratory infection at Lusaka Central and Kamwala Remand prisons had spread to many detainees. Judge Banda also disclosed that the Commandant at Maina Soko Hospital had stated in a report on the medical profiles of all detainees that a rogue bacteria had become uncontrollable because of congestion in the cells.
The Human Rights Commission
In June the commission also announced that its probe into alleged police gunfire during an opposition rally, injuring Kenneth Kaunda and self-exiled Liberal Progressive Party chairman Rodger Chongwe in Kabwe in August 1997, was shelved because the commission had not raised the K65m (U.S. $50,000) needed for the enquiry. Human Rights Watch published its own findings from ballistic and forensic analysis in May and concluded that a bullet from an assault rifle struck and seriously injured Rodger Chongwe. Fragments from the bullet reportedly slightly wounded Kaunda and an aide. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch no warning had been given prior to live ammunition being used by police. A small number of police that day carried AK-47 assault rifles, senior officers had revolvers, and a few G-3 assault rifles were held by a police mobile unit.
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