A Zambia based in South Africa has urged international human rights bodies to closely monitor the judicial harassment of activists in Zambia.
This follows the decision of the Supreme Court to charge with contempt of court anti-corruption fighters who are raising issues of bribing judges.
In an alert he issued to major international organisations, Sipo Banda says the Supreme Court is out to cripple critical voices necessary for holding the judiciary to account.
See the alert below:
URGENT ALERT ON ZAMBIA
ANTI-CORRUPTION AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS FACE JAIL
Anti-Corruption and Civil Society Activists in Zambia face long jail terms or punitive monetary fines or both following the country’s highest Court to charge them with contempt of Court.
Among the civil society activists summoned to appear before the Supreme Court of Zambia on 17 July 2018 is a 75-year-old retired clergy Bishop John Mambo who has since been served with court orders.
The summoning of the activists follows a Supreme Court judgement in 2017 between a local bank Stanbic Zambia ltd and a local company Savendah Management Services. According to media reports, Savendah management services sued Stanbic bank, a unit of Standard Bank of South Africa, for negligently listing it as bad debtor with Zambia’s credit Reference Bureau. Savenda claimed that it lost business and contracts due to the negative listing. The High Court of Zambia found the bank liable and negligent and ordered it to compensate Savendah Management 192 Million Zambia Kwacha. Stanbic Bank appealed to the Supreme Court which overturned the judgement of the High Court and instead said Savendah Management Services should pay the Bank and its lawyers 10 million Zambia Kwacha as legal fees.
A few months later, local media published documents purporting that the Supreme Court judges were bribed by the Bank to overturn the High Court judgement. See here: https://www.zambiawatchdog.com/stanbic-bribes-supreme-court-judges-in-savendas-k192-m-case/
Following these media reports, members of the public and NGOs started demanding that a tribunal to investigate the judges should be set up. Some NGOs officially complained to the Anti-Corruption of Zambia and the Drug Enforcement Commission to investigate the allegations. See here: https://www.lusakatimes.com/2018/06/12/civil-societies-issue-joint-statement-on-allegations-against-judges-in-savenda-vs-stanbic-bank-case/
But in a turn of events, the Supreme Court has now charged the activists who wrote letters of complaint to the police and the Chief Justice, the head of the Zambian judiciary with contempt of court. If found guilty, the activists will be jailed or given heavy monetary fines.
The summoning of the activists will definitely have a chilling effect on human rights and anti-corruption activists in the country as this intimidation will lead to fear.
What is surprising in the matter is that the activists have been charged with contempt of court when the case they commented on was already disposed of. In Zambia laws, contempt of court only happens when the matter is active in court but once the matter has been concluded, members of the public are free to comment on the judgment.
There is also fear that the activists will not be given a fair trial because the same judges who are accused of corruption will be the ones judging the activists. The summons and charges were drafted by the same judges. The same judges are the also the complainants in the matter. Moreover, this is the final court of appeal in Zambia. If the activists are found guilty and jailed, there is nowhere else they can appeal.
The international community must therefore take interest and follow this matter as it has the capacity to cripple anti-corruption activists in Zambia.