CIVICUS

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Zambia

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Last updated on 06.09.2022 at 08:27

The Civic Space Developments

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Implications of new tax on freedom of expression raises concern, public order Act under review

Implications of new tax on freedom of expression raises concern, public order Act under review

Anti-corruption activist exonerated in president’s mass pardon; Youth beaten up for insulting President Hichilema ; Government introduces 16% VAT on newspaper sales ; Review of Public Order Act underway

Expression

Government introduces 16% VAT on newspaper sales

In January 2022, the government introduced a 16% VAT on e-newspaper and newspaper sales. Many criticised this move for its potential negative impact on freedom of expression and right to information.

In a press statement by MISA Zambia, the organisation expressed concern that the VAT measures would limit access to information, and called on the government to withdraw the measures .

MISA Zambia is of the view that the VAT measures should be immediately withdrawn in the interest of the public. MISA Zambia contends that the proposed VAT on both the e-newspapers and newspapers will have a negative effect on freedom of expression and access to information by the public.

Youth beaten up for insulting President Hichilema

On 15th June 2022, a video surfaced on social media of the Zambian Armed Forces beating up a group of young people for allegedly criticising President Hakainde Hichilema for his unfulfilled promises. In a statement by the Zambia Human Rights Commission, Chairperson Mudford Mwadenga condemned the violence and reiterated that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited under international and regional human rights instruments that Zambia is obligated to uphold..

Earlier, in another video on social media in January of this year, the chairperson of the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND), Gilbert Liswaniso, warned Zambians against criticising President Hichilema, adding that anyone who did would be assaulted. Civil society organisations and opposition political parties strongly condemned the statement. Neither the UPND leadership, nor President Hichilema, spoke out against Liswaniso’s statement.

Peaceful Assembly

Review of Public Order Act

In late June 2022, the Zambia Development Law Commission began the process of receiving comments from the public regarding the Public Order Act. The Act, which regulates public gatherings, has been criticised for violating the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Among its restrictions include the excessive discretion granted to the police and the mandatory requirement to notify the authorities of a public gathering, a provision which was repeatedly used by the previous administration to prevent and disrupt public gatherings on alleged and unspecified security grounds.

Association

Anti-corruption activist exonerated in president’s mass pardon

On 25th May 2022, to commemorate this year’s Heroes and Unity Day, a day that promotes unity among the over 70 ethnic groups in Zambia, President Hichilema pardoned 949 inmates and commuted sentences for 98 others on various terms of imprisonment. Among those pardoned was Gregory Chifire, a human rights defender and anti-corruption activist who was sentenced in absentia to six years imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Zambia in 2018 for calling for investigations into potential judicial corruption involving the largest bank in the country.

Ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Chifire went into exile in fear for his life. Under the new administration, Chifire safely returned home in October 2021 until his official pardon in May this year.

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.