Issued by Judith Mulenga
Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) Chairperson
Lusaka, Press Statement Wednesday, 21st September, 2022:
THE Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) is concerned with the continued incarceration, without trial, of the Patriotic Front Member of the Central Committee, Ms. Mumbi Phiri.
CiSCA acknowledges that no-one is above the law and that there are indeed many others, like Mumbi Phiri, languishing in our prisons in similar circumstances but this still does not make her prolonged detention right or acceptable. An injustice is an injustice regardless of who is involved – both the perpetrator and the victim. We remind the government that the Presumption of Innocence is enshrined in Article 18(2) of our Constitution and therefore until proven guilty, no one should have to be behind bars for longer than the law demands. We also remind the government of the maxim ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ All incarcerated people are entitled to a speedy trial. The UPND Manifesto under its Law, Justice and Security did affirm not only to ‘strengthen all institutions to provide and guarantee security, safety, human rights, civil liberties and justice,’ but to also, ‘modernize the operations of the judiciary to speed up the dispensation of justice
THE continued incarceration of Mumbi Phiri goes against all the national values and principles outlined in Article 8 of our constitution, particularly Article 8(d) on human dignity, equity, social justice, equality and non-discrimination. This also goes against the values of “Equality before the law”, and “Respect for the freedoms and rights of all citizens” as contained in the UPND Manifesto (page 6).
It also goes against President Hakainde Hichilema’s pledge during his address to Parliament on 11th March 2022, where he promised that his government would “enforce the law equally regardless of one’s status in society”. The President also promised that “government will uphold the rule of law and accord everyone equal treatment in line with the law and our national values and principles”. We believe the time is now ripe for the implementation of these commitments.
We therefore find it unfortunate that yet another government has embraced the excuse of a failed judicial system as normal, contrary to campaign promises to uphold the rule of law and end injustice. In its manifesto for 2021 to 2026, the UPND promised to: “Modernize the operations of the judiciary to speed up the dispensation of justice because justice delayed is as good as justice denied.” No Zambian deserves prolonged incarceration without trial, regardless of their political or any other affiliation.
The continued incarceration of Mumbi Phiri has clearly shone the spotlight on how dysfunctional our justice system is and this in itself should be enough to compel the government to show their sincerity by acting with urgency to reform the system and accelerating court appearances for pending cases across the country, especially in the rural areas where the justice system has lamentably failed the people and perpetuated inequality in access to justice.
The Chief Justice is on record as having highlighted the failure to take suspects to court in a timely manner as an injustice, but one year down the line, little has changed.
We call on the Chief justice to act with haste to ensure that Mumbi Phiri immediately appears before the courts of law, including the many other people in similar circumstances, not as a favor but a legal requirement and a demonstration of political will to change our justice system for good. Doing this should not be seen as a weakness but a demonstration of uncommon wisdom, integrity and strength of character for those that hold power to make change happen.