CIVICUS

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Zambia

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Last updated on 27.04.2017 at 09:31

Zambia - Overview

Zambia has an extensive civil society, which includes a strong presence by church groups and trade unions as well development and human rights CSOs.

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Pro-government group storms Law Association of Zambia's office

Pro-government group storms Law Association of Zambia's office

Attacks against Linda Kasonde, President of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), and against LAZ itself have continued in recent months.

Association

Attacks against Linda Kasonde, President of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), and against LAZ itself have continued in recent months. Kasonde came under attack when reports showed that she used to work for one of the main opposition party leaders, Hakainde Hichilema. In turn, Kasonde had to refute allegations that she had political ambitions and prove that her association with the opposition party did not influence her role as the head of LAZ. 

On 3rd March 2017, groups of young people in support of the ruling party mobilised against Kasonde and stormed the LAZ office, demanding her immediate resignation. The LAZ declared the act an attempt to intimidate the association. The SADC Lawyers' Association petitioned the Minister of Justice to protect both Kasonde and LAZ. The Minister of Home Affairs, Stephen Kampyongo, declared the demonstration illegal; however, no arrests of perpetrators were made after the incident. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 15th April 2017, President Edgar Lungu threatened opposition political parties planning to hold demonstrations in support of detained opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, who was arrested on treason charges. President Lungu warned that any form of protest would be considered illegal and could potentially lead to detention, stating:

“We will be thorough. Anyone engaging themselves in illegal demonstrations or violent protests will be arrested".

In addition, similar statements were made in Parliament in March 2017 by the Minister of Home Affairs, warning citizens against demonstrations, also stating that they would be considered illegal. 

The threatening and intimidating rhetoric from government officials has increased fear among the public and impacted citizens' right to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly. 

Expression

In February 2017, journalists from privately-owned broadcasters, Muvi TV and the ZNBC, were beaten by opposition supporters as they covered a police-supported operation to clamp down on illegal drug stores in Chawama. The government condemned the attack on the journalists, as did the civil society organisation, Network of Young People Against Violence. The attack was a clear assault on freedom of the press, as it interfered with journalists' rights to report on events in the interests of the public. 

In a welcome development, on 25th April 2017 President Lungu pardoned and released journalist Chanda Chimba on humanitarian grounds, as Chimba's health has continued to decline. The journalist was sentenced in 2016 for failure to register his production company and two newspapers, as well as for alleged connection to a crime. However, there were suspicions that the charges were politically-motivated, since Chimba had produced several documentaries critical of government officials. The Committee to Protect Journalists had previously called for his release. 

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.

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