CIVICUS

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Zambia

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Last updated on 06.08.2018 at 13:33

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Opposition voices muzzled, as activists are arrested

Opposition voices muzzled, as activists are arrested

In August 2017, there were several reported cases of opposition party members being arbitrarily arrested and meetings organised by opposition party being prevented from taking place. Protesters and online dissidents were also arrested and detained, while a proposed cyber crime law threatens free expression.

On 5th July 2017, President Edgar Lungu declared a state of emergency, invoking article 31 of the Constitution. This act followed a fire that destroyed City Market, Lusaka's main market. Several other incidents, including arson attacks, took place with the government blaming the opposition. On 11th July, Parliament approved a 90-day extension to the state of emergency. 48 opposition members of parliament, who boycotted the vote on the approval and extension of the state of emergency were suspended from their roles on 13th June 2017 for a period of 30 days.

The state of emergency, which expired on 11th October 2017, granted extra powers to the president, meaning that Lungu could invoke the Preservation of Security Act, according to which public assemblies can be prohibited, curfews imposed, media restricted, and it also gives police additional powers to detain and arrest. Under the emergency powers, publications can be shut down, according to the Inspector General of the Police in a press conference on 15th July. Civil society feared that the government's actions could be used to silence dissenting voices, including independent media and opposition. Steven M. Ellis of the International Press Institute said in this regard:

"Given developments in Zambia in the last year, the partial state of emergency would seem to be part of a broader effort that we have observed to silence critical voices, including the country’s remaining independent media outlets, and to step up the crackdown on the main opposition party, while at the same time fending off challenges from within his own party."

Civil society noted that human rights violations had taken place during the 90-day state of emergency. In particular, the Zambia Council for Social Development issued a statement, declaring that:

“We have witnessed and noted with sadness the violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms such as freedoms of assembly, association, expression and the right to a speedy and fair trial, by the state during this period of the threatened state of public emergency, using the police service."

On 26th July 2018, local elections were held in and around the districts of Lusaka for the office of Mayor, Council Chairpersons and ward by-elections The elections were characterized by very low voter turnout. The district of Kasenengwa had the lowest turnout at 14.54% while the district of Lusaka had the highest turnout at 40.27%. The Electoral Commission noted with regret that despite the peaceful atmosphere of the elections, the turnout was low and encouraged people to exercise their right to vote.

Prior to the elections, a number of civil society organisations highlighted reported cases of attempts to influence the vote by the ruling Patriotic Front. This included the distribution of chickens, sugar, shirts, money and other goods to the public. The CSOs further expressed concern that the public is increasingly losing confidence and trust in the Electoral Commission of Zambia's capacity to oversee and deliver a credible election.

Association

In August 2017, there were several reported cases of opposition party members being arbitrarily arrested and meetings organised by opposition party being prevented from taking place. The following are several examples of such incidents:

In August, United Progressive Party President Saviour Chishimba was detained on accusations of "defaming the president" but  was released seven days later without charge. 

Also in August, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) petitioned the Electoral Commission regarding incidents during which police prevented the UPND from organising public meetings in connection with the local elections. The UPND requested that the Commission interject and allow the meetings to take place. According to a media report, the police claimed to be under order to prohibit the opposition party's meetings in accordance with the country's state of emergency provisions. 

On 16th August 2017, a Zambian court released UPND opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, revoking the charges against him of "plotting to overthrow the government". Hichilema faced treason charges after disrupting the presidential motorcade with his own motorcade and "this act allegedly endangered the life of the president". 

Peaceful Assembly

Several protests took place between August 2017 and January 2018 in Zambia, many of which focused on labour rights and combating corruption within the government, including the following:

  • On 29th September 2017, media reported that clashes erupted between police and protesters outside the country's parliament building. Approximately 100 people had gathered to protest the pervasive graft in the Zambian government, particularly the procurement of 42 fire trucks by the state for an alleged cost of US$42 million. Prior to the protest, the police warned that any protests outside the parliament would be "dealt with" and not tolerated. Six of the protesters were arrested and detained for over 10 hours before they were released on police bonds, and were jointly charged with disobeying Lawful Orders. They were arraigned before a court in Lusaka on 25th June 2018 to commence trial The case continues in court on August 10th 2018. 

The six are:

• Lewis Mwape, director, Zambia Council for Social Development; 

• Lewis Mwape, director, Zambia Council for Social Development; 

• Laura Miti, director, Alliance for Community Action;
• Sean Enock Tembo, president, Patriots for Economic Progress;
• Bornwell Mwewa (activist);
• Fumba Chama also known as Pilato (local musician and activist);
• Mika Mwambazi (activist). 

  • In October 2017, the Patriots for Economic Progress Party organised a demonstration over the government's alleged corrupt action in procurement practices. 
  • In November 2017, AVIC Construction Company workers peacefully protested for better working conditions. 
  • On 15th January 2018, it was reported that police lobbed teargas to disperse protesters who were protesting inadequate trading space for their goods after they were banned from selling in the streets. The protesters, who were mostly women, had planned to march to state house, but were blocked by riot police. In the previous weeks, the government had proceeded to close several businesses in an effort to curb the spread of a cholera outbreak.

Expression

According to the Lusaka Times, journalist Paul Siambala is facing terrorism charges for his alleged ties to the opposition party UNPD. Siambala is the former station manager for Kariba FM and has been in detention since June 2017. At the time of writing, the CIVICUS Monitor was unable to provide an update on Siambala's situation and the status of his case. 

In other developments, on 10th January 2018, a medical doctor at Luampa Mission Hospital was sentenced to two years imprisonment on three counts of defamation to the president. Doctor Kalela Kwafunya was found guilty of creating a fake Facebook account for purposes of subjecting the name of the President to ridicule and disrepute by posting disturbing remarks, insults and digitally altering images of the president of the republic.

Incidents of deliberate state actions to muzzle dissidents continued to get media attention in 2018. On 13th April 2018, it was reported that police officers raided KFM radio station in Mansa, and stopped a live radio show featuring National Democratic Congress (NDC) Consultant Dr Chishima Kambwili. Dr. Kambwili was escorted to the police station where he was questioned before they released him.

Expressing concern that the environment for journalists was slowly deteriorating, NDC opposition party Secretary General Mwenya Musenge said:

“As NDC we take strong exception to what has happened in luapula province today. The decision by state police to curtail a radio interview featuring NDC Consultant in Mansa is purely absurd and an act of desperation. Police in Mansa have not given an valid reason on why Dr. Kambwili’s interview on k FM was stopped.”

MISA Zambia also highly condemned these police actions, reminding the police that their role is to protect citizens’ rights; including the freedom of expression, and the right to access to information through the various means which includes the media.

In a separate incident, on 16th May 2018, Zambian authorities arrested singer and activist Chama Fumba, popularly known as Pilato, at Lusaka airport as he arrived into the country from Johannesburg, South Africa. Fumba had fled the country in January 2018 after receiving threats from supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front Party over his hit song "Koswe Mumpoto" ("Rat in the pot"). The song, which speaks about corruption in the country, was interpreted as criticism to the president and his ruling party.

A warrant had been issued for his arrest in February 2018, after he failed to appear in court for charges relating to his participation in a protest against corruption in September 2017. Fumba was part of a group of activists who protested the irregular procurement of fire engines outside parliament buildings.

Amnesty's southern African director Deprose Muchena said.

"[His arrest] shows the lengths to which Zambian authorities are prepared to go to stifle dissent."

In a separate development, on 5th July, the government announced that it would be introducing new tough laws to regulate the use of social media. The laws, which the Communications Minister said are meant to fight cyber-crime and combat the consumption of pornography will come into force next year. 

Opposition Lawmakers from the United Party for National Development (UPND) however expressed concern that the new laws would stifle freedom of expression and silence dissent.

Choma Central MP, Cornelius Mweetwa said:

“The government is targeting social media because its the only platform that people can use without fear of being attacked by ruling party supporters unlike public media". 

Association

CSOs in Zambia experience a regulatory patchwork, with different laws and ministries regulating the formation and operation of different types of CSO.

CSOs in Zambia experience a regulatory patchwork, with different laws and ministries regulating the formation and operation of different types of CSO. Some of the major laws on CSOs have colonial era origins and are oriented towards the control of civil society. Challenges include the granting of broad discretionary powers for state officials, vague terminology about what is permissible in the public or national interest and excessive sanctions for non-compliance. The controversial NGO Act of 2009 sought to extend the state’s control over CSOs. Among its troubling provisions were a compulsory registration requirement that also demanded the submission of a recommendation letter from a government department, the need for registered CSOs to receive prior approval for their activities, and the granting of wide-ranging discretionary powers to public officials. Many CSOs boycotted registration under the Act, while the government pressured funders not to give grants to non-registered CSOs. A group of CSOs brought legal proceedings and this led to an out-of-court settlement in which it was agreed to suspend the Act, pending a review of its impacts and possible amendments. Negotiations on CSO self-regulation remain ongoing.

Peaceful Assembly

Under the colonial era Public Order Act, seven days’ notice must be given for the holding of an assembly.

Under the colonial era Public Order Act, seven days’ notice must be given for the holding of an assembly. Police often misinterpret the need to give notice as giving them the authority to refuse permission. The police may impose conditions on the date, time, place, duration and manner of an assembly, and the law is interpreted in ways that are selective, politicised and arbitrary. There are instances of police violence to break up assemblies, including those held by civil society groups, trade unions and the political opposition, and detentions of participants. Criminal sanctions in the Penal Code include jail sentences for the unlawful assembly of three or more people, while the Preservation of Public Security Act 1960 gives the president emergency powers to restrict assemblies deemed to pose a security risk.

Expression

While cases brought to the Supreme Court have often upheld the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of expression, the freedom remains constrained both by the Defamation Act and the section of the Penal Code on criminal libel and slander.

While cases brought to the Supreme Court have often upheld the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of expression, the freedom remains constrained both by the Defamation Act and the section of the Penal Code on criminal libel and slander. These have enabled law enforcement agencies to charge CSOs with defaming public officials. Of particular concern are the Penal Code’s strict provisions against criticism of the president and the publication of false news, along with vague terminology about ‘public morality’. State-controlled media are politicised. Under the Information and Communications Technology Act of 2008, independent radio stations that criticise government policies have been threatened with revocation of their licences, and this can cause the media to self-censor and not air critical voices, including from civil society. Websites are sometimes blocked, and there is a lack of alternative social media news sources. Instances of police raids on and the forced closure of independent TV and radio stations were seen around elections held in 2016, while an independent newspaper was shut down on tax grounds and a number of its journalists arrested and charged with publishing classified information. A series of secrecy laws restrict the access to information, and an access to information law remains at the draft stage, with its passing evidently not a political priority.