Socialist Party of Zambia leader Fred M’membe arrested again in rising campaign of repression

SP President Fred M’membe was arrested on August 22 on an additional charge in a case of political violence in the Serenje district in April. Despite having been attacked by members of the ruling UPND, M’membe and other SP leaders were arrested by the police

August 22, 2023 by Tanupriya Singh
(Photo: Fred M’membe/Facebook)

The president of the Socialist Party (SP) of Zambia, Dr. Fred M’membe, was arrested yet again on Tuesday, August 22, amid an escalating campaign of repression against the party and its leadership. While M’membe was released late on Tuesday evening, the arrest took place barely two weeks after he was charged and jailed for the offense of libel. 

On the morning of August 22, M’membe arrived at the Ibex Hill police station in Lusaka in response to a call-out notice (or summons). M’membe reported on his social media that in an effort to prevent SP members from reaching the station in solidarity, all roads leading to the police station were blocked and hundreds of officers with crowd control vehicles were stationed.

Speaking outside the police station, M’membe said that “[This] is to ensure that nobody comes here…when has a police station been a secret place? Are we trying to create a gestapo where people should be arrested in secrecy?”

After a grueling four-hour process, M’membe was finally charged with the offense of “Acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm.” This is an additional charge in a case related to an incident of political violence that took place in the district of Serenje on April 8. On that day, members of the SP were brutally attacked by cadres of the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND) during a campaigning event for an upcoming by-election. 

While the attackers remained at large, M’membe and two other members of the SP were detained on the charge of “Assault occasioning actual bodily harm.” M’membe was also charged with the “Unlawful discharge of a firearm”. Talking to reporters after his release on Tuesday, M’membe himself denounced the fact that the people responsible for the attack in April had still not been arrested, even as the SP had lodged complaints with the police. 

M’membe has maintained that he had fired a few warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd on the day of the attack to save “a situation that could have ended in the death of a UPND cadre or a SP cadre.”

Months after the Serenje incident, “the police have failed to find something on me and subsequently charge and arrest me given there hasn’t been any basis to justify such an action,” M’membe said on Tuesday, adding however that “due to excessive pressure from [President Hakainde] Hichilema, the police command last Saturday dispatched a team to Choma to get a statement from a UPND cadre they claim was injured on the head.” 

According to SP General Secretary and First Vice-President, Cosmas Musumali, the individual in question had actually attacked SP members in Serenje. 

Meanwhile, Musumali announced that as the party was trying to arrange sureties for M’membe, two other SP leaders from Lusaka Central had also been arrested for simply arriving at the police station to show support for M’membe. The charge on which the arrest was made was “action that was likely to cause a breach of peace.” 

Members of the SP remained outside the Ibex Hill police station on Tuesday evening to welcome M’membe after he was released. 

“This country will not be good for any of us, including Mr. Hakainde Hichilema himself, if it is not good for all of us”, M’membe said. “[Hichilema] is destroying this country with tribalism like we have never seen before, with very high corruption…we are seeing an increasing abuse of police [powers]… Every regime in this country that has attempted to use the police for politics has failed, Hichilema is no exception.”

The SP has often noted that the repression against them is a clear attempt to silence prominent critics of the UPND government whose opponents grow by the day, especially amongst the masses that have been failed by its policies.