Barotseland: Five Youths on Politically-Motivated Trial for Carrying UNPO Flag
Photo Courtesy of: The Barotseland Post 2016
After having been arrested on 29 October 2015, the politically-motivated trial against five Barotse youths on false charges of ‘seditious practice’ begun on 13 March 2016. Although it is still unclear what charges they are being held for, the five individuals were arrested after publicly displaying a UNPO flag. Testimonies from witnesses heard so far lack consistency, raising the suspicion of having been instigated by Zambian security agencies.
Below is an article published by Barotseland Post:
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is an international, nonviolent, and democratic membership organization. Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognized or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments, and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.
Barotseland, a member since November 2013, accordingly bears the UNPO flag at induction, and the carrying and public displaying of this flag is what landed a group of five Barotse youths in Zambian prison five months ago. Since their arrest, however, the five have never been accorded court trial, until now.
The normal Zambian legal procedure stipulates that an alleged offender should be brought before a court of law for trial, within 48 hours after arrest, but precedence so far shows that the Barotse have never enjoyed that right in Zambia, as in this case and hundreds of others cases before.
The following report about the beginning of their trial was submitted by Mwananyandi Mukunyandela Mukuyoyisa of the BNFA.
March 13, 2016.
The matter of the People (State) versus Sinonge and others (The five Barotse Imilema youths) finally took off on 10 March, 2016 in Kaoma, Barotseland. This was before a Mongu - Lealui based magistrate Hon. D. M. Chingumbe. The prosecution called six witnesses and closed their case, while the learned defence lawyer Mr. Nathaniel Inambao had a field day cross-examining the witnesses. Most of the witnesses did not even know or understand the offence the five had committed.
The five Barotse Imilemas (BI 5) , were arrested on 29 October 2015 and eventually charged with ‘Seditious Practice’ contrary to section 57 (1)(b) Cap. 87 of the Laws of Zambia for displaying the UNPO flag as they went round Mongu – Lealui road fundraising for a court trip to Kaoma involving another group of six BIs. The six (BI 6) were earlier arrested and were appearing in court for announcing a public rally. The BI 5 were only granted bail on 11 December 2015, after a spirited fight by the defence lawyer against the punitive conditions earlier attached to the bail. None the less, the case could not take off until now — more than four months from the date of arrest. They have since made more than six court trips to Kaoma, 200 kilometers away from the area where the alleged offence took place in Mongu - Lealui. On each occasion, the case could not take off for various reasons, but mainly due to non-availability of the court officials and or the prosecution team.
On this particular occasion, the case was scheduled to come up on Wednesday, 9 March 2016, the same day as the Afumba Mombotwa and others treason case judgment in Kabwe High Court. As usual, the court officials in Kaoma were not even aware that the case was supposed to come up. It was only after consultations with the office in Mongu - Lealui that the court official adjourned it to the following day, Thursday, 10 March 2016. The courtroom was still packed to full capacity, even though the group of supporters from Mongu - Lealui numbering over 20 travelled back as they could not afford the one day extra cost for the hired minibus, feeding and lodging.
The state proceeded with the case with all the six witnesses presenting evidence on how the BI 5 were apprehended in the Mabumbu area chanting slogans while displaying the UNPO flag. The cross-examination for these witness was the pick of the day as the learned defence counsel, Mr. Nathaniel Inambao, seemed to be in a great mood as he exposed the glaring ignorance of the witnesses both in terms of the details of the case and general knowledge, despite the fact that they were mainly police officers. They did not know anything about UNPO and one officer did not even know where the Headquarters of the UN was, answering that it was in Washington DC. When the questioning got tough the witnesses escaped the onslaught by pointing out that they were merely acting on instructions from higher police command. None could point out what was wrong with displaying the UNPO flag or whether it was wrong to say ‘Bulozi ki bwa lu na’ (Barotseland is our homeland.)
One of the pieces of evidence rendered to prove the case of seditious practice was a protest letter found in the bag of one of the accused. The letter had been presented to the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, via Zambia’s western province Permanent Secretary in Barotseland, Mr. Mwangala Liomba, in the presence of some security chiefs in charge of western province. The document was signed by the BNFA Chairman General, Mr. Clement Wainyae Sinyinda and the Secretary General, Mr. Mungandi wa Muwina Mungandi. The defence lawyer inquired why its authors were not in court to answer for their sedition, if at all this document was seditious in any way.
The witnesses failed to answer the question.
As the prosecution closed their case, the defence successfully applied for a waiver on a requirement for the accused to appear for mention fortnightly due to high travel costs as well as for the release of the confiscated vehicle which the accused were using on the day they were arrested.
The Magistrate further ruled that the defence should make written submission by 1 April 2016 and the prosecution by 13 April 2016.
Ruling on whether the BI 5 have a ‘case to answer’ will be made in a court session scheduled on Friday, 29 April 2016.