The Vatican -Alarmed by a rapidly deteriorating human rights and political climate in Zambia, the three leading Christian Church bodies, known in Zambia, as the “three Church Mother bodies” on Friday issued a strongly worded public statement, at a press conference, critical of Zambian President, Edgar Lungu’s leadership. The Zambian Church leaders called for the immediate release of Zambia’s main opposition political leader, Hakainde Hichilema (popularly known as HH) whom President Lungu has confined in a maximum security prison, even before trial for an alleged treason charge, is determined.
The three Church mother bodies comprise the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB); the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) which represents Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches as well as the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ). CCZ is the umbrella body for Protestant Churches and Church-related organisations that traditionally are also members of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The statement by the Church leaders is a stinging rebuke to President Lungu and demonstrates a show of solidarity that has recently been missing among Zambia’s Church leaders. It also underscores frustration with the Zambian President, Edgar Lungu’s vindictive style of leadership.
“Yes, we in the Church Leadership are not repentant; Zambia eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship. The fact of the matter is that only leadership that does not have the will of the people on its side or thinks it does not have the will of the people on its side uses state institutions to suppress that same will of the people,” the Church leaders said. In essence, they were backing an earlier statement of Zambian Catholic Bishops that labelled President Lungu as a dictator. Zambia has in the past been known as a relatively peaceful and stable democracy.
There is not much love lost between President Lungu and the leader of the main opposition UPND party, Hichilema. When the latter did not give way to the President’s motorcade in April, this year, Lungu unleashed the full force of Zambia’s state machinery against Hichilema. He has since imprisoned the opposition leader and charged him with treason. It is an offence that carries a death sentence. Amnesty International says the treason charges against the opposition UPND president Hichilema are designed to harass, intimidate and deter him from doing his political work.
Jointly presented to the media, the statement issued by the Church leaders is signed by Lusaka Archbishop and President of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Telesphore Mpundu; Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) President, Bishop Alfred Kalembo and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Board Chairperson, Bishop Paul Mususu. Archbishop Mpundu told the media that efforts for behind the scenes diplomacy failed as President Lungu declined to meet the clerics.
In the statement of the Church leaders, the Zambia Police Service is singled out for its lack of professionalism and brutality.
“The indictment of the Police Service as being unprofessional was not invented by the three Church Mother Bodies; it is found written in black and white in the judgment of Magistrate Greenwell Malumani which tells us that the conduct of the Police in this case was not in line with the law and Police Professional ethics! Quoting the learned Judge, the Episode ‘exposed the Police’s incompetence, unprofessionalism and criminal behaviour in the manner they handled the arrest of Hakainde Hichilema,’” reads the statement, in part.
The Church leaders further criticise diminishing freedoms in Zambia: A growing culture of intimidation by state agents; worsening human rights situation and in particular, the erosion of press freedom. They give the closure of Zambia’s leading independent newspaper, ‘The Post’ as an example to back their assertions. They have called on President Lungu’s government to initiate national dialogue as a way out of the political impasse.
Predictably, President Lungu’s supporters took to social media to vent their anger against the Church leaders though the majority of citizens seemed relieved that the Church was taking a strong moral stand against injustice and the authoritarian style of President Lungu’s government.