Professor Muna Ndulo, the director of Berger International Studies Program at Cornell Law School and Cornell Institute for African Development, recently said Zambia is rapidly degenerating into a police state. All the ingredients of a police state are there for all to see.
Ours is increasingly becoming a country in which the activities of the people are strictly controlled by the ruling Patriotic Front leaders and cadres with the help of a police force. And a police state is one in which those in government exercise power arbitrarily through the power of the police force in a manner that is undesirable, overbearing.
Citizens of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility, or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control by those in power may be exerted by means of a police force that has become their personal or ruling party tool.
A police state is one in which the police and their political masters break the law with impunity and not even the courts can stop them from doing wrong. They become a law unto themselves. In a word, the police and its political masters start to place themselves above the law. They can ignore court orders and do as they please with impunity.
We saw this in case of The Post when the police, working with the Zambia Revenue Authority, ignored – to this very day – an order of the Tax Appeals Tribunal to reopen The Post. And instead, they beat up, arrested and detained the managers of The Post who were trying to enforce a lawful order. That was in June last year and to date, they have not been charged with any offence. And no apology or compensation has been made to the victims of their lawlessness.
Ours is a police state where the Director of Public Prosecutions was arrested on trumped up charges and detained with a High Court order stopping the police from doing so his hands.
In a police state, the courts seldom stop the police from doing or getting what they want. Today, the police don’t need any justification to be granted a search warrant; it is simply given to them on request as a matter of routine. They actually don’t often bother to collect it and they break in without it. Moreover, if it is later needed, they can still get after the search has been conducted.
The police can seize your assets without any evidence of them not being yours or them belonging to someone else. And no immediate court action can stop them. In that way, your business and your life can easily be crippled by the police with impunity.
In a police state, no police officer is made to account for wrongdoing unless their transgressions directly offend their political masters. They can maim, kill or destroy property and nothing will happen to them as long as they are in good terms with the political masters and are seen to be their loyal servants.
In a police state citizens’ rights don’t really exist. Police duties take precedence over the rights of citizens. Look at the way the public order Act is being enforced by the police! As if it was such a small and insignificant thing and not something to do with the exercise or enjoyment of fundamental or inalienable right.
In a police state, meaningful public discourse dies and is replaced by police orders and brutality. Those in power don’t need to engage in discourse with anyone and arrive at some consensus with key stakeholders. They simply decide what they want and order the police to beat up everyone into compliance.
When Edgar Lungu publicly threatens to sort you out using his powers as head of state, it is the police he is talking about. On his own, without the police, Edgar is nothing. And it is only in a police state where those in power can use the police to crush their personal political opponents “like a tonne of bricks”.
All these political arrests and detentions we are witnessing are only possible in a police state. They are not possible where the rule of law is strong and the judiciary is independent. And this is why where there’s a police state, the independence of the judiciary is always compromised and adjudicators are intimidated or corrupted with appointments, promotions and money.
We are in a police state and it won’t be easy to get ourselves out of it. Those benefiting from this order will defend it with everything they have. It is not possible for them to remain in power if their abuse of the police and the entire judicial process is stopped.
So, this calls for a tenacious struggle without respite. Who will wage that struggle? Who will lead that struggle?