Mambilima: Just set up tribunal, stop intimidating activists

Mambilima: Just set up tribunal, stop intimidating activists

We are disgusted but not surprised that the so called chief Justice Irene Mambilima has resorted to abusing her office and the courts to cover and protect herself and fellow judges accused of corruption.

We are not surprised because that is what dishonest people in her situation normally do. We are disgusted because it is wrong but tolerated.

Irene Mambilima and her colleagues at the Supreme Court have cited five civil society activists for contempt of court. The five include Bishop John Mambo, Gregory Chifire and three others.

The five are accused of contempt of court because they have raised or commented on corruption allegations involving Supreme Court judges who presided over the Stanbic Bank versus Savendah Management case. No need to repeat the details of that case suffice to say that there is evidence to show that Supreme Court judges were bribed by Stanbic, Following revelations of that bribery, many citizens including the five have complained of the injustice wrought by the court. Others have reported the matter to the Anti-Corruption and the Drug Enforcement Commission for investigation. Others have written to the Chief Justice herself to take action. Disgustingly, these complaints by concerned members of the public have now been turned into material for contempt of court.

What the hell is going on in the judiciary? What is Irene Mambilima hiding?

Let’s start with contempt of court, which court? As far as we know, at the time the activists made their comments or wrote letters of complaint, the case of Stanbic v Savendah management was not in court. It was disposed of. When the matter was in court, members of the public did not comment but eagerly awaited the outcome. Everybody expected justice to be served. There can be no justice if adjudicators are accused of receiving bribes to rule in a certain way. It is this injustice that has annoyed members of the public. They are commenting on a matter that is not in court. That is not contempt of court. Contempt of court is supposed to serve a purpose. It is not a blanket cover to protect judges for wrong doing. It is supposed to protect the court from interruption or attempts to influence its judgement. Obviously that interruption or influence can only happen when the court is in session. After the judgment, the court cannot be interrupted or influenced. There can be no contempt. Members of the public are free to comment and reach their own conclusions on a matter that is not under court consideration. Are we now entering an era where members of the public should have no opinions on court judgements?

We note from the summons issued to the activists that it says in the matter of Savendah v Stanbic. What is this? Is this not an abuse of the court process? This matter was finalised and closed. Who has reopened it? Has Stanbic submitted a motion to reopen this matter? Who is their lawyer? So far there has been no statement from either Savendah or Stanbic, even our efforts to contact either have proved futile. Will Savendah and its lawyers be in attendance when this matter resumes? Can they submit evidence? Who will pay legal fees? Can a court reopen a case without parties to it being involved? This sucks and smells of more abuse.

The activists have raised issued of corruption against specific judges, against the court that heard the Savendah v Stanbic case. Now, is it in order that these same judges or this same court should judge these citizens? What judgement can we expect when the same person is the accuser, the arresting officer and the judge? What happened to the principle that no man should be the judge in his own case? This is a travesty of justice.

These are clearly criminal charges as the summons show? The rule of law is a simple concept that everyone in society, including chief Justice Irene Mambilima is equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes. If Mambilima or one of her counterparts believe that Bishop Mambo has committed a crime called contempt of court, why can’t they report to the police?

Let Mambilima or any of the named judges report this matter to police if they feel that a crime has been committed. The police will then investigate and if satisfied with evidence they will find, they will submit it to the DPP to authorise prosecution. That way there will be a semblance of justice even if the matter will end up in the same judiciary accused of corruption. But at least the matter will be heard by different judges starting in the magistrate court like any other case. As things stand, the activists will face Supreme Court judges whom they accuse of corruption. Can they receive a fair trial? How? The judges will be the accusers. They drafted the charges. They will be the witnesses. They will be the prosecutors and they will be the judges. This is crap This is vengeance. It is unacceptable. It should not be allowed. No one should accept to be treated or tried in such a clearly inhuman manner that does not meet even one standard of fair trial. This is what tarnishes Zambia’s image locally and abroad. Why should Zambia always be associated with negativity? These people are summoned in the name of the president. The impression given here is that the president condones and tolerates such rubbish which is aimed at protecting people who are accused of corruption. Already we have a case where other activists are facing criminal charges for merely protesting alleged corruption in government. This matter which involves musician Pilato is hot news in the international press. Now Mambilima adds another case to tarnish the image of Zambia.

Mambilima and her friends should not create special rules or courts for themselves. This is actually abuse of office. It is Mambilima and her friends who should be arrested for abuse of office. You cannot reopen a closed case just to punish people who are dissatisfied with the outcome.

If particular judges have been accused of corruption and they believe they are clean, why can’t they sue for defamation so that the people making the allegations can have an opportunity to prove? Why try to use criminal law to intimidate people from pointing out corruption in the judiciary? Will sending people to jail stop the general public from perceiving the judiciary as corrupt?

We know why they can’t sue for defamation. They fear that the truth will come out. So they resort to using fear by threats of imprisonment so that people cannot present evidence in this criminal trial set up where unfortunately and against basic standards of a free trial, the judges are the complainants, witnesses and prosecutors. Even under military courts basic human rights of free trial are observed.

This case must be rejected with the contempt it deserves. It is only meant to intimidate citizens who are trying to clean up the judiciary. There is no contempt of court here. There is only contempt of corrupt judges. These judges must either sue for defamation or follow the law by reporting the matter to the police instead of abusing their offices.

What will happen if the DPP decides to exercise her inherent jurisdiction to enter a nolle prosequi in this matter? Won’t it be embarrassing to the Supreme Court Judges? Obviously, this is a matter of public interest. Many players will join this case and being a criminal case, the DPP is an interested party, naturally.

There is only one thing that will put this matter to rest: a tribunal. Mambilima must urgently set up a tribunal to investigate what really happened in the case of Savendah v Stanbic. Intimidating the civil society will not work. It has never worked.

Mambilima and her friends must ask themselves why this particular case has created such a backlash when there are so many judgements which people just accept without question. There is a limit to how much nonsense people can swallow, even generally law abiding citizens like Zambians.

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