The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has called on President Edgar Lungu to respect fair trial standards and ensure that the tribunal set up to probe the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mutembo Nchito SC, on alleged abuse of authority charges be completely transparent.
Mr Nchito was arrested at his home in Lusaka on Thursday 12 February, after Chongwe Magistrates’ Court (CMC) issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged misconduct and violation of the laws of Zambia. This was the result of a complaint filed by former deputy Minister for Finance Newton Nguni before the CMC. The alleged offences are purported to have been committed in Lusaka, which is outside of the CMC’s territorial jurisdiction. As such, the Lusaka High Court has ordered a stay of the arrest warrant and declared the arrest to be null and void, stating that the CMC, as the lower tribunal, had no competences over the issue.
In a statement, IBAHRI Co-Chair Hans Corell commented: ‘We urge President Lungu to avoid the case against Mr Nchito becoming mired in political influence. The events leading to Mr Nchito’s arrest and the subsequent appointment of a tribunal appear to have infringed due process rights enshrined in the Zambian Constitution and the domestic Criminal Procedure Code. It has been reported that the terms of reference for the disciplinary proceedings were published in the press, but that Mr Nchito has not been notified of the charges against him in writing. This is a significant violation of his legal rights preventing him from preparing his defence. The IBAHRI, therefore, urges the Zambian authorities to ensure that the Director of Public Prosecutions is afforded the full range of rights guaranteed by international legal standards, as well as national legislation during any proceedings.’
As a holder of constitutional office, the DPP is afforded constitutional protection against proceedings being initiated against him, unless instigated by the president. Therefore, subsequent to Mr Nchito’s release from custody on 12 February 2015, President Lungu commenced administrative proceedings against Mr Nchito. Initially, it was reported that the tribunal would be held behind closed doors in camera. However, that decision has since been reversed and it will be held in public.