Zambia/UK: IBAHRI concerned by arrest of human rights lawyers in Zambia

January 30, 2017

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute is concerned by the recent arrest of human rights lawyer Oliver Holland in Zambia. Mr Holland, a lawyer with London-based law firm Leigh Day, was escorted to Chingola Central Police Station and detained without charge after conducting meetings with clients of a class action lawsuit in Zambia on Tuesday 10 January.

Mr Holland was meeting with clients from village communities regarding a lawsuit filed by 1,800 Zambian villagers against UK-based mining multinational Vedanta Resources and its Zambia-based subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). Both companies have been accused by villagers of being responsible for polluting their water sources and farm land, resulting in illness, death and low crop yields.

Mr Holland was initially detained under the Public Order Act which prohibits meetings of more than three people without a police permit. However, the very nature of Mr Holland’s work – representing 1,800 villagers with limited access to alternative means of communication – requires that he update his clients via group meetings involving around 100 to 150 people at a time.

After being detained for four hours, Mr Holland was informed that he was instead charged under the Penal Code Act for Unlawful Assembly. Upon being offered to have the charge reduced to a misdemeanour and a fine if he agreed to the offence, Mr Holland accepted and was released.

The Commanding Officer of the Police Station informed Mr Holland that he would have to seek a police permit before meeting with his clients in future. In order for Mr Holland to consult his clients the next day he was required to not only request a permit, but also consent to the presence of an undercover armed police officer at the meetings.

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