CIVICUS

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Zambia

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Last updated on 16.10.2018 at 11:42

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Escalating attacks on journalists worrying, as restrictions on expression continue

Escalating attacks on journalists worrying, as restrictions on expression continue

Government imposes new tax on internet phone calls, as the cabinet approves new social media and cyber crime law amidst fears that it shall stifle freedom of expression. Also, female student dies during overnight students' riot.

On 13th August 2018, Cabinet resolved to introduce a 30 Ngwee ($0.03) per day tariff on internet phone calls following an increase in its use at the expense of traditional phone calls. The Transport and Communications Minister, Mr Brian Mushimba says that the money collected would be used to improve infrastructure and create more jobs for Zambians. According to the country’s Information and Broadcasting Services Minister, Dora Siliya, the tariff is also meant to encourage Zambian citizens to use traditional means of making phone calls.

This move has however been criticised by human rights groups. Richard Mulonga, head of the online rights group Bloggers of Zambia said:

"We have noted that it's part of the systematic attempt by the state to stifle freedom of expression online. This is an assault to freedom of expression and association… This tariff does not promote digital inclusion, internet neutrality and affordability.”

Meanwhile, the Zambian cabinet also approved the introduction of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill to Parliament for debate. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the government had announced that it would be introducing new tough laws to regulate the use of social media in an alleged bid to fight cyber-crime and combat the consumption of pornography.

In a separate development, on 12th October 2018, camera person Kashete Sinyangwe of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), who was covering the story of two suspected copper thieves was attacked at the Kitwe Magistrates' Court. The attackers, who were supporters of one of the suspects, a prominent businessman, also warned and threatened the cameraman of dire consequences if the content was aired on television as they also tried to delete the camera footage. Civil society organisation MISA Zambia issued a statement strongly condemning the attack, and the increasing attacks on media freedom and against journalists by members of the public. Highlighting an escalating pattern of attacks on journalist, MISA Zambia also mentioned in their statement another incident where journalist Raphael Mulenga of Flava FM Radio was recently beaten up by a mob in Buchi Township in Kitwe while covering a protest against the shooting of a citizen by a police officer.

Peaceful Assembly

On 5th October 2018, it was reported that a female student, Vespers Shimuzhila, died in an overnight students’ strike in Lusaka, Zambia. The fourth-year student at the university of Zambia is said to have suffocated from teargas canisters fired by police officers into the predominantly female residency. Students at the university had gone on strike to protest delayed meal and accommodation allowances.

On 8th October 2018, hundreds of students took to the streets to protest Shimuzhila's death. During the march which was dubbed #JusticeForVesters, the students were seen wearing black as they mourned the loss of their colleague.

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.