CIVICUS

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Zambia

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Last updated on 26.10.2020 at 09:00

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Youths find innovative ways to protest in Zambia

Youths find innovative ways to protest in Zambia

Young Zambian celebrities and other youth held a protest in an unknown location which they broadcast live on social media platforms over fears of arrest

Peaceful Assembly

Young Zambian celebrities and other youth held a protest in an unknown location which they broadcast live on social media platforms on 22nd June 2020. The protest, dubbed the ‘bush protest’ was held to denounce bad governance and what they referred to as ‘oppression by the government and foreign investors’. Among other demands, the protesters called on the government to curb corruption, be accountable, respect human rights, create job opportunities and include the youth.

According to those who participated, the protest was held in the bush because authorities had warned them against holding it and had threatened to use lethal force on them. One of the protesters, hip hop recording artist Fumba Chama, popularly known as ‘Pilato’ said:

“We have decided to protest from the bush because the streets in our own country have become dangerous for young people to walk and protest… Because we wanted to express ourselves we’ve been told that our bones would be broken, we’ve been told that we will be met with the new equipment that has been acquired by the police.”

They vowed to sustain the protests on a monthly basis until the issues they raised are addressed. Meanwhile, police in riot gear patrolled the capital’s central business district in anticipation of the peaceful protests, with the police spokesperson announcing that they had not been given a permit to protest, citing COVID-19 restrictions. The spokesperson also accused civil society organisations of inciting youths to protest.

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.