UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema says there cannot be talk of the 2021 general elections without first talking about electoral reforms and ordinary citizens’ basic rights. And Hichilema says conditions in prison are extremely dehumanising.
Hichilema and Hamusonde Hamuleka, Muleya Hachinda, Laston Mulilanduba, Pretorius Haloba and Wallace Chakawa who were arrested on April 11 charged with treason, walked to freedom after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Lillian Siyunyi discontinued their case on August 16.
This followed pressure from the Catholic bishops led by Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu, Commonwealth secretary general Patricia Scotland and former Nigerian president Olusegan Obasanjo who met President Lungu and Hichilema while he was in prison to broker a peace deal.
When asked by the BBC’s Focus on Africa on prospects of him withdrawing the presidential petition against President Lungu and consequently recognising him as President, Hichilema pointed out that dialogue was essential in any situation, based on the truth and on fairness.
In a civilised world, we should resolve our differences through dialogue [because] persecution, abuse of public institutions can never solve any problem. Violence does not solve any problem, in my view. I think before we talk about 2021 elections…elections are not an event [but] a process. There are many things that we need to deal with; are citizens able to mobilise freely? Are they able to exercise their fundamental human rights? Is there freedom of expression? [Is there] freedom of the press? We need a truly independent electoral commission. So, we can’t talk of 2021 elections without talking about the rights of people to assemble freely, to demonstrate freely,
Hichilema told BBC’s Kennedy Gondwe in an interview at his New Kasama residence in Lusaka on Friday.
When asked what he would be saying in his imminent meeting with President Lungu, Hichilema said: “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.”
He also complained about the living conditions in jail, saying they were horrible for inmates.
[The conditions in prison are] terrible; in simple language, extremely dehumanising! Basically, a lot of torture goes on in those prisons. To start with, we were made to sleep on cold floor, we were made to use buckets to answer the call of nature for both urinal and faecal matter in a 2.5 metres by two metre room; everything had to be kept there,
“We were locked up in those cells for 16 hours a day, essentially, and nobody should be going through those conditions in today’s world. There’s congestion in there; you have no ventilation, you have no windows at all and people are dying in those prison cells. People are dying [because of] poor health standards, poor medical attention, poor diet-people die there-those [prison cells] are death chambers.”
He noted that he felt like he had not been released from prison yet because he commiserated with those who were still languishing in detention.
There is no sleeping condition because there is no mattress, no blankets. People sleep by sitting inside each other’s front, bodies touching each other. [But] you cannot treat citizens in those conditions. It is difficult for the people I left in there [and] I feel I’m not released yet because there are a lot of innocent people who are in detention. So, it’s tough for everybody,
Asked whether or not he was afraid of being re-arrested, considering that he was not acquitted, Hichilema said: “This nolle, my lawyers have just been interpreting…But that aside, why would I worry about a re-arrest if I committed no crime?”
He further rubbished the State’s accusations that he wanted to install himself as Republican President during the Kuomboka traditional ceremony in Mongu in April.
“It’s practically impossible, it’s not possible! I think really, the sole part in this episode is that anyone decent enough who is arguably granted [the mandate to rule] through the people’s will has the responsibility to basically superintend over a country and should never abuse State institutions and power. This should not happen to anybody else,” said Hichilema.