Dr. Fred M’membe was arrested on charges of libel on August 8, after he was summoned for questioning by the Zambian police. An outspoken critic of imperialist and neoliberal policies, M’membe had long warned of his arrest amid attacks on the Socialist Party
SP President Fred M’membe (Center) was arrested by Zambian police on charges of libel on August 8. Photo: Socialist Party of Zambia
The president of the Socialist Party (SP) of Zambia, Dr. Fred M’membe was arrested by police on August 8. The leader and veteran journalist was charged with the offense of libel, after he was summoned for questioning at the Woodlands Police Station in Lusaka on Tuesday.
As M’membe arrived at the police station, members of the SP and supporters gathered in the area in solidarity, carrying the banner of the Student Socialist Movement, the flags of the SP, and placards with slogans that read “Hands Off Our President!”
In a statement on August 6, the Socialist Party students movement’s chairperson, Joseph Musonda said, “We are angry at the manner [in which] the state has been treating our President [M’membe]. Even if you are not a socialist, you can see the injustice that has been done against our President. Just recently you saw the political violence in Mkushi, Serenje, Chitimukulu, Mwansabombwe, Luapula province[s]… The SP President has always complained to the relevant authorities. But he has been treated as the instigator.”
Among these instances of violence was that of Serenje, where in April, members of the SP were violently attacked by alleged cadres of the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND). While the attackers remained at large, the Zambian police arrested M’membe on charges related to the discharge of a firearm and assault.
Following the proceedings at the Woodlands Police Station on August 8, a statement by a police spokesperson announced that M’membe had been charged with libel in relation to an article that was published and circulated on social media on June 6 with the alleged “intent to defame” the Deputy Inspector General of Police. Police have also issued a “warn and caution statement” to M’membe regarding an alleged “offense of communication of certain information” contrary to Zambian law.
Speaking to the media, M’membe’s lawyer Simon Mulenga Mwila stated that M’membe had denied the allegations and that he “remained in high spirits”. As he was being escorted away, M’membe said “We are being locked up, it is not the first time it has been done and it will not be the last, but it has never taken anybody anywhere…”
SP spokesperson Frank Bwalya later notified that the “police had managed to frustrate efforts to get [a] police bond” for M’membe, “their plan to make him sleep in the cells [in the police station] has worked.” The SP president remained in detention at the Woodlands Police Station as of the evening of August 8, where he has since been visited by members of Zambian political parties including the former ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
M’membe had been warning of the threat of his arrest for weeks, stating back in June that the SP had received “reliable information” that the police, “in collaboration with UPND cadres drafted into the State House security” intended to “abduct him”, further accusing President Hakainde Hichilema and the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the State House of engaging in a “gestapo style of policing.”
In a statement to the media on August 8, the Inspector General of Police, Graphel Musamba, said, “We have noted with serious concern the utterances recently made by Socialist Party leader Dr. Fred M’membe. The statements published in some tabloids and various social media platforms are inclined at nothing but inciting the peace loving people of Zambia so that they lapse into civil disobedience in order for them to gain scarce political mileage.”
Musamba went on to threaten that “the Zambia Police Service has an obligation to defend the constitution at any cost and that it will do, even if it takes some stern measures such as smashing the rebellion which we know is carefully being instigated by [the] Socialist Party… As a reminder to the Socialist Party, if you check the history of this country, people with frivolous dreams such as yours have been defeated.”
Calling it an “outrightly political statement,” M’membe responded to the Inspector General’s comments on his Facebook page— “The Zambian people already know the suffering they are facing under Mr. Hichilema’s one-term regime. Let Mr. Hichilema know that the Zambian people don’t need anyone to incite them; they are fully awake to the suffering he has put them through so far.”
“What is likely to incite Zambians is the hunger and untold suffering they are being subjected to as their President continues to work very hard to serve imperialists and transnational corporations. What has caused Zambians to lose faith and confidence in Mr. Hichilema and his far-right UPND government are the gross inequalities and injustices that Mr. Hichilema is reinforcing and then commanding his Inspector General of Police to defend.”
“Zambia needs a conscious leadership that understands our non-aligned strategy to our foreign policy. The clientist role played by the UPND government is crippling,” M’membe had said in a tweet in July.
The SP has consistently denounced Western imperialism and neoliberal policies. In Zambia, it has criticized the lack of government response to the worsening cost of living crisis, exemplified by the rising prices and shortages of mealie meal (a type of maize flour), fuel, and electricity.
In an article published on July 29, M’membe denounced the UPND administration’s two years in office as being “disastrous,” marked by the arrest of opponents and “selective justice,” and by the government being a “puppet of Western governments by allowing an AFRICOM “office” in Lusaka, while backtracking on its promises.
In his statement on August 8, M’membe added further, “The problems this regime finds itself with today emanate from its own lies, deception, or simply put, unfulfilled promises and shameless puppetry by a President and regime eager to serve Western and transnational corporation interests at the expense of its own people, many of whom can now only dream of half a meal a day.”