What has happened?
Unfortunately, the fate of the three Barotse prisoners now lies entirely in the hands of the Zambian Executive, particularly the Zambian President, who we understand has refused to sign their release after an internationally guided process to have them released on the technicality of a case dismissal by a higher court of appeal through an inter partes hearing.
The dismissal of their case by the Supreme Court and their eventual release was published and announced here with due diligence after a carefully collaborated effort by both some brave judicial officers and some concerned international institutions who reportedly facilitated for their case to undergo a fresh determination in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, with all that effort, their fate still lay in the President who has remained unyielding, preferring to continue punishing the trio for political expediency!
Were our multiple sources compromised in this matter?
Probable, but highly unlikely as the tipoff was also corroborated through highly placed sources in Zambia’s Correctional Services hierarchy! Evidently, all the accusing fingers point to a conflicted Zambian Executive, who now simply wish to use the three as political bargaining chips whenever it would be most convenient to them! In fact, this would not be the first time this apparent misapplication of justice would occur in this issue! Even their conviction at the high court was purely a political matter, as the trial process was rocked with political overtones.
For example, in spite of their trial being public, attendance was strictly by police invitation and restricted to only twenty people, most of whom were state police, while the media was completely banned from attendance. Meanwhile, state witnesses were never cross-examined, and the three Barotse prisoners’ trial records do not appear anywhere in the judicial systems, to this day!
On its part, the Zambian Executive continue to officially deny the trio’s imprisonment in Zambia, with the Vice President, Inonge Wina, officially denying their conviction and imprisonment on the floor of parliament, while Solicitor General Mwansa is on official record making a similar denial in his written submission to the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) when the Ngambela of Barotseland and others reported the Zambian state to the Banjul Court for alleged state sponsored maltreatment of the Lozi people in Zambia.
Afumba Mombotwa (59), Inambao Kalima (56) and Likando Pelekelo (63) were arrested on the 5th of December 2014 and charged with treason for allegedly seeking to secede ‘Western Province’ from Zambia. In an embarrassing trial that followed almost a year later, the trio was instead convicted on a different crime of attempting to or usurping the power of the Zambian Executive contrary to Zambian laws!
In reality, however, the three were only arrested for pursuing the implementation of the March 2012 Barotse National Council (BNC), the same being the Supreme Organ in Barotse governance, which was regularly constituted by the King of Barotseland under the auspices of both the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) and the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) in the presence of the church and the international community!
In fact, the Zambian government not only officially attended the 2012 BNC but also helped with logistical support by providing, among other services, all the public address systems used at the event as well as extensive media coverage!
Therefore, how could anyone who peacefully advocated the implementation of the resolutions of such an auspicious process as the 2012 BNC be considered guilty of usurping the powers of the Zambian Executive or indeed be accused to have committed any treason felony?
So, with such apparent political victimization of the three Barotse prisoners and several irregularities in the ensuing trial as highlighted above, their conviction by the high court to ten-year jail sentences, with hard labour, was always considered illegal!
The same 2012 BNC mandated the formation of transitional institutions, including a complete Barotseland government take-over within 30 days of the BNC resolutions!
The 2012 BNC further invalidated Zambia’s supposed authority over Barotseland derived from the pre-independence 1964 Barotseland Agreement, which the Zambian state unilaterally repudiated and abrogated in 1969.
With the 2012 BNC formally and officially accepting that abrogation of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 in the presence of the international community, it would then follow that Zambia’s administration of Barotseland thenceforth would be deemed illegal.
However, this continued illegal operation of Zambia's administration in Barotseland such as the arrest, trial and conviction of Afumba Mombotwa and his two colleagues, attracted the attention of some international law experts especially that it had happened after the 2012 BNC.
When subsequent follow-ups were made on the case, no records were found in the entire judicial system of Zambia, and yet Afumba and his colleagues were still in the Zambian prisons. It was this shocking realization which resulted in a lot more pressure mounted on the Zambian judiciary.
This pressure from the international community accorded the politically laden Zambian judicial system an opportunity to do what it always wanted to do, by professionally dismissing the case. Therefore, the Afumba Mombotwa treason case was reportedly concluded and dismissed in the Supreme Court of Zambia as reported earlier this month.
However, the Zambian Executive has again allegedly interfered with and ignored the decision of the Supreme Court like they are accused to have imposed the 10-year jail sentencing, with hard labour, of Afumba Mombotwa and his colleagues in 2016.
It is further understood that the President only wishes to release the three Barotse on condition that they sign an already finalized document to serve as the new ‘Barotseland Agreement’ on the pretext that the documents had already been signed and endorsed by all the other activist groups as well as the Royal Establishment. It is this condition, however, that we understand Afumba has rejected, stating that if he and his colleagues were free of their accused crimes, they should be released from jail unconditionally, but if not he would rather serve the rest of his prison term than betray the express will of the majority through 2012 BNC!
What is their current predicament?
It is now understood that chances of their release have further worsened after the Executive and the BRE realized that the three have continued to enjoy overwhelming local and international support, evidenced by the solidarity and jubilation which followed the announcement of their release!
Therefore, it is here hoped that pressure will continue to be exerted on Mr. Edgar Lungu as president of Zambia to unconditionally free the three Barotse political prisoners from Zambian imprisonment. The church and parliamentarians must particularly help demand that the Zambian Executive forthrightly explain the status of Afumba Mombotwa, Likando Pelekelo and Inambao Kalima. Why are they still in jail? Are they political prisoners or are they still considered mere remandees awaiting trial?
It is further hoped that the Zambian parliamentarians, especially those of Lozi descent, will probe the Vice President to give an update on the status of the three Barotse as soon as parliament resumes this week, given that last time she claimed on the floor of Parliament that the three were not serving any prison sentences but were merely remanded pending trial.