t is a common statement that not all who are in prison are guilty but little do we care until we are faced with the reality of this statement.
In our work we came across a young man, Lameck Mwanza, from a village in Chipata. Lameck had just written his grade nine examination and decided to take journey to Lusaka in search of financial help to further his education from his uncle.
Unfortunately Lameck is now serving a 15 year sentence in Mukobeko maximum prison for aggravated robbery, in circumstances that we consider proper miscarriage of justice.
Lameck was raised by his two elderly parents in the rural areas of Chipata. He lived there up until the time he wrote his grade nine exams in the year 2012 when he traveled to Lusaka.
When he arrived in Lusaka, he found his uncle in one of Lusaka’s poverty stricken compounds, Misisi. The state of the house was just above a ramshackle with windows and doors that would easily be blown out by a strong wind.
Seeing that the house was too small to accommodate Lameck, his uncle using the common approach in most compounds, decided to ask for space from single bachelors who lived nearby. Lameck would spend the day at his uncles and just return to the other house to spend the nights there.
Barely a month of staying with those gentlemen, they relocated from their house. However, Lameck continued residing in the very house.
One night as he was asleep, he was awoken by banging noise of policemen. He opened the door to a shock full sight of policemen. The police searched the house and upon finding nothing, viciously grabbed him and packed him into the boot of their car.
It so happened that what had transpired before his arrest was an Aggravated robbery in the nearby area. A 13 year old girl witness to the incident reported to the police that even without being able to see their faces, she could recall the voice of one of the burglars and identified it with the house where Lameck was staying.
The girl led the police to the house and Lameck being the only one found in that house, was taken by the police men.
He was taken to Chawama police, where he was put in a cold cell for about sometime. In this cell, he was subjected to a criminals’ treatment without even been given any trial.
He was kept in the cell for about six months without access to a lawyer or being taken to court. This act infringed his human right because every human being deserves the right to have access to be tried in a court of law within 48hours of being arrested.
Keeping him in cells was one way of torturing him so that he can reveal where the stolen property was kept and who else participated in the robbery.However, Lameck could not give the police what he did not have or know about.
It became clear to the arresting officer that indeed, he was not part of the crime. For the long time that he was held in the cells, any criminal after being tortured for so long would be incapable of concealing the truth.
His father travelled from the village in Chipata to help his son who had vowed to be innocent and falsely accused.
In his desperationto see his son freed, Mr. Mwanza, came toThe Zambian Voice(ZV) offices to seek help. The sight of the old man gave us so much sympathy and compassion as he would break down in tears about his son, and how his wife, Lameck’s mother spends sleepless night wishing and praying of the day she will see her son free.
After hearing the story from the father, the victims of the robbery, Lameck, the arresting officer and various parties that were involved in the deadlock, we knew that there could be light at the end of the tunnel for Lameck.
We followed up the story by speaking to several parties involved and came to the conclusion that indeed Lameck was innocent.
We requested the representation of a lawyer, Mr. Sibanze Simuchoba, who is currently the Permanent Secretary for Southern Province. Mr. Simuchoba was also caught with sympathy seeing the troubled old man and decided to act on pro bono. His services went further to even help with money for the upkeep of Mr. Mwanza whilst in Lusaka as we did the same at ZV.
Mr. Simuchoba saw to it that the case was taken to the Magistrate court. Lameck appeared in a Magistrate’s Court Case Number 2013/CRMP/665 for Mention of the charge while waiting for instructions from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
During the proceedings, the issue of his age arose at the mention. It could well be that he is a juvenile which fact would determine the nature of trial and if found guilty, the nature of sentence. The Magistrate rightly referred the Accused to a medical facility to determine or ascertain his age.
However, before receipt of the medical report by the Magistrate and without informing his Lawyer, Lameck was arraigned before a Judge of the High Court; Case Number SP 133 of 2013. He was given a state advocate, Mr. Cheelo Mwiingawho was unaware of the deliberations in the Magistrate’s Court.
The state advocate did not have any meaningful conversation with Lameck. The only time they spoke was for just a few minutes before the court session begun.One would have expected the lawyer to have a detailed interrogation of the case with Lameck, but Mr. Mwiinga could not do that.
Upon hearing his story, the state advocated advised Lameck to give no evidence but just keep silent so that the State can prove their case. Unfortunately, this was catastrophic for the poor young man.
The 13 year old girl came and testified that she recognized Lameck even if it was dark because of his voice. Based on that positive recognition, without any defense, the Judge convicted Lameck and sentenced to the statutory minimum sentence of 15 years for the subject offense.
The circumstances of Lameck’s trial and conviction are a clear miscarriage of justice. Firstly, he was denied the human right to be heard and tried in a court of law as he was kept locked up and tortured in cells for six months.
Secondly, the arresting officer was beyond doubt convinced that Lameck was innocent and he still went ahead and did nothing because of fear of the complainants who kept insisting that he was guilty.
Thirdly, the issue of dual court appearances was not sorted out. Fourthly, the state advocate, even after advising him to remain silent, did not even make an effort on cross examinations of the witnesses.
It could have been that the state advocate was overwhelmed with work, but if he was dealing with a rich man, we know that he would have paid more attention. There is negligence shown in his actions with regards to Lameck Mwanza.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, but based on the evidence presented the ruling of the high court was upheld.
Our only hope now lays in the hands of the president, to use his prerogative powers of mercy to pardon Lameck Mwanza, a man who has fallen prey to the poor judicial system.
This is just the story of one man, but how about the thousands out there who have been denied their human rights and have suffered injusticefair simply because they are poor and are considered to be nobodies in society.
We may speak about equality but for equality to exist, it has to start with equality in our judicial system.