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On Zambia, ICP Asks UN of Student Arrested for Criticizing Lungu, HH Prison Conditions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 25 – Starting back on April 11 Inner City Press asked the UN's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Zambia's arrest for "treason" of the opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema. After a no-comment then platitude, when Inner City Press on July 6 asked about the move to a state of emergency, Dujarric quickly said it is a state of heightened... something, then read out a statement he otherwise wouldn't have, about consulting the opposition. Including the opposition figure still locked up? On July 25, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: about Zambia.  Now not only is the opposition leader H.H. complaining of his conditions in prison, he’s still in prison, but a student is essentially going to jail for insulting President [Edgar] Lungu on Facebook.  So I wanted to know, is it something that the DPA (Department of Political Affairs) has continued to follow and do they think things getting better or worse?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, yes, we have been following developments in Zambia.  We’ve taken note of the declaration of a state of heightened alert, and the President’s call for an independent investigation into the fire at the Lusaka Central Market.  We believe the tensions and differences in the country are better addressed through constructive and inclusive dialogue among all stakeholders, including with the opposition, and we remain committed to supporting Zambia on its path to sustainable peace and development.

Inner City Press: Sure.  So being able to criticize the president on Facebook would be considered part of a robust debate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

  On July 12, Inner City Press asked, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: In Zambia, I know that you'd said a few days ago that it wasn't… you used the term "other than a state of emergency," and now I… I wanted to ask you, now that the parliament has formalized and extended this whatever you want to call it for three months and the Government has also said they're going to use INTERPOL to try to get people in the diaspora to return for prosecution for what they've said, is the UN getting involved?  What's the UN's view of this new development?

Spokesman:  I think we, obviously, continue to follow those developments closely, and I think we continue to believe that the tensions and existing differences in the country should better [be] addressed through constructive, inclusive dialogue for all stakeholders in the political spectrum.

Inner City Press: Since… I mean, I don't know if you'll comment on INTERPOL, but there have been increasing complaints by people that States are using it basically to go after political opponents, not criminals. Is the…

Spokesman:  INTERPOL is a Member State organization that is not part of the UN system.  I think you'd have to ask that leadership for a reaction.

   That's called passing the buck. From the UN's July 6 transcript: Inner City Press: I've asked you before about Zambia, but now President Lungu has moved to declare a state of emergency, and I noticed yesterday that the Secretary-General actually, as it happened, met with the returning Permanent Representative of Zambia.  Did the issue come up?  Does the UN have any… now that things have moved to this stage after the arrest and continued jailing of the opposition leaders, suspension of Members of Parliament, what about a state of emergency?  Does this trigger anything at the UN?

Spokesman:  No, we've… we're obviously aware of the situation in Zambia and the declaration of what I think is being referred to as "a state of heightened alert".  We're following the developments closely.  For our part, we believe that tensions and differences in the country are better addressed through constructive and inclusive dialogue among all stakeholders, including with the opposition.  The UN remains committed to supporting Zambia on its path to sustainable peace and development.

  The UN is failing - Dujarric didn't even answer Inner City Press if Mr "Preventative Diplomacy" Antonio Guterres raised the issue when he gushingly received the credentials of Zambia's Permanent Representative on July 5, before Inner City Press was ordered to not stake-out and cover Guterres' "reform" speech. Inner City Press on April 26 asked Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I want to ask you about Zambia. I’d asked you before, and you’d said sort of a generic comment about due process.  Now the main opposition leader, H.H., they call him, has been held over for trial for treason for allegedly cutting off the… in his car, in his convoy, the… a convoy of the President.  Many people are saying it’s pretty extreme and basically it’s an attempt to shut down the opposition.  Is DPA (Department of Political Affairs) or anyone in the UN paying attention to this?

Spokesman:  No, we’re following it, and I think, again, we would call on all the political actors to de-escalate the tensions and engage in dialogue.

  Following? How? On June 13, Inner City Press asked Dujarric, in writing: "In Zambia, opposition figure Hakainde Hichilema, jailed for a traffic infraction, has been moved to a maximum security prison. Given your Office's previous answers on Zambia, what is the UN / DPA saying or doing on this?"  Dujarric did not answer, at the noon briefing or after. So on June 14, Inner City Press asked Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: earlier this year, you'd said that DPA is watching the situation in Zambia where the… the opposition leader, Mr. [Hakainde] Hichilema, had been put in jail.  He's now been moved to a maximum-security jail, and 48 members of Parliament have been suspended and can't enter the Parliament building.  So, it seems to be getting worse than it was before.  Has DPA continued to follow this?  Do they have any…?

Spokesman:  Yes, our… we're obviously aware of the… this particular situation, and our comments made at the time stand.

The UN is failing. From the April 11 UN transcript:  Inner City Press: In Zambia, the main opposition leader, Mr. Hichilema, has been arrested by the Government on treason charges.  Is there any, is DPA or any of the various envoys of the UN… Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that.

  And nothing by the end of the day. A full 24 hours later, not having sent the statement such as it was to Inner City Press, Dujarric used his next noon briefing to say: "From Zambia, I think you, Matthew, raised a question about the issues and I can say that we are following developments in the country. We are not in a position to fully establish the facts but hope that due process and an impartial investigation into the events will take place. Zambia has made great strides in consolidating its democracy and has a tradition of peaceful transition of power.  Differences should be addressed through a constructive and inclusive dialogue to further advance on the path to sustainable peace and development."

   The UN has no credibility in calling for due process: the Organization including Dujarric evicted and restricts the Press with no hearing, no appeal, no explanation. On April 13, Inner City Press asked Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I wanted to ask, on Zambia, yesterday, you'd said, you'd come back with the statement that the UN can't verify the facts but is concerned about due process.  So I wanted to ask you, now, the lawyers for the opposition leader, in particular his lawyer, Jack Mwiimbu, has said publicly that he's being blocked from seeing his client.  Was this, since there seemed to be some issues with the UN…

Spokesman:  I would reiterate what I said yesterday.

  The gap between what the UN says and does is as wide as ever, maybe wider. Back on March 30 after the UN's noon briefing with only three questioners (and without still-restricted Inner City Press), the question again arose: what is the bare minimum a spokesperson should be expected to do, for an organization like the UN? Should it include at least providing some response to Press questions submitted? Despite only have to response to the three questioner, two hours after submission not one of these, or outstanding questions on Cameroon and Western Sahara, was answered: "These are four questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time, thanks in advance:
1) In Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has just been sentenced to one year and eight months in prison along paying a fine to Hun Sen on charges of “defamation.” This coincides with the 20th anniversary of the grenade attack on a rally led by Rainsy. What is the UN's comment, and separately what is it doing about this in Cambodia? 2) On the DRC Congo: 1. Who found the bodies of Sharp & Catalan? The UN or the DRC authorities? 2. How many bodies were found? Just 2, or 3? 3. Is the UN aware of the status of Betu Tshintela? Can the UN confirm that Betu's body was found along with Michael & Zaida? 4. How to explain this discrepancy? 5. Has the UN been to the site where the bodies were found, yes or no? 3) In light of recent criticism that the UN supports corrupt governments, please explain / amplify the UN's RC in Zimbabwe's statement that “'Our role is to support development in Zimbabwe in partnership with the government. We are behind government' ... He said all its efforts were done in agreement with President Robert Mugabe and his government.” 4) Also, please describe the vetting done in connection with Sri Lanka military deployments with UN Peacekeeping missions in Mali and elsewhere, given the UN's own reports on military abuses in Sri Lanka." We'll have more on this.

    On March 29, the UN was providing two responses to five Inner City Press question, simply ignoring questions on Cameroon, corruption and Western Sahara? Inner City Press on the morning of March 29 asked the UN's top three spokespeople "questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time: 1) What is the Secretary General's comment on Jordan rolling out the red carpet for Sudan's Omar al Bashir, subject to an ICC arrest warrant for genocide? 2) Given that the UN Economic Commission for Africa has had to delay its meeting with African finance ministers at the Dakar meeting the 38th floor is tracking due to Morocco seeking to exclude the Polisario, does the SG / DPA think these developments move the situation in Western Sahara closer to a peaceful solution and referendum? 3) In one of two UN-related bribery prosecutions in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Ng Lap Seng's co-defendant Jeff C. Yin is now engaged in plea negotiations, as Ng Lap Seng's trial draws near. Will the UN be monitoring the trial as to what it shows of UN involvement, and what was done regarding the DGACM official who provided a falsified / amended for “technical” reasons document regarding the proposed Macau convention center? 4) Because UNanswered, asking again: In Cameroon, former UN legal adviser (in UNAMA and elsewhere) Felix Agbor Balla now, according to a UK-based barristers' organization, faces a military trial with the death penalty on the table for speaking out about conditions in the country's Anglophone areas, where the Internet has been cut for 71 days and counting. Particularly given Agbor-Balla's former position as a UN legal expert, what is not only the UN's comment, but what is the UN doing to attempt to ensure he receives due process? Also, what about the arrest of human rights lawyer Robert Fon and his transfer to Yaounde? Also, yesterday your Office replied, regarding the USG of DPI, “We will announce arrivals and departures as they occur.” Now that your partner has arranged a farewell for this USG for March 30, what is the rationale for your Office refusing to confirm her departure and the status of recruiting a replacement? And the unanswered questions below."

  To those Inner City Press questions, the UN Spokesman provided, past 2:30 pm, only this -- "Regarding your question about Omar al-Bashir, our position on him remains unchanged.  We urge all States, including the States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, to abide by their obligations. Regarding the naming of senior officials, we have announced two appointments today (for the Executive Director of WFP and the High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs).  Other announcements will be made in due course.  Regarding Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach, her position will be filled by an Officer-in-Charge upon her departure while the process to find a new Under-Secretary-General for Public Information continues." So, nothing on Cameroon or Morocco / Western Sahara / ECA, nor other questions on UN costs and corruption. We'll have more on this.

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