Smears against critics of the government on the rise in Zambia
Recent attacks on the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and its president Linda Kasonde have sought to undermine confidence in the independence of the judiciary. In particular, comments by presidential press aide Amos Chanda regarding a recent ruling on a member of Parliament have attempted to tarnish the reputation of the association by questioning its impartiality. Many claim that these attacks are an attempt to intimidate LAZ after the association's work to protect the independence of the judiciary, promote constitutionalism and call the government to account over actions that have bordered on the subversion of the Constitution. These actions included:
- the government's decision to allow ministers to stay in office after the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the August 2016 national elections;
- attacks on the judiciary after the Constitutional Court ruled that Ministers should have relinquished office and that those in office illegally should pay back salaries received during that period.
In response, the Government has accused LAZ of supporting the opposition, and attacked Ms Kasonde, despite the fact that all public statements were made in her capacity as President of LAZ and on behalf of association. Attacks on the leaders of civic and professional organisations are often used to dissuade such leaders and their associations from criticising the government and monitoring government actions.
The media in Zambia has been under sustained attack from President Edgar Lungu's government. On 15th November, Zambian authorities arrested 5 people from Radio Mano, after members of the country's ruling party accused the radio station of being sympathetic to the opposition. They were charged with using insulting language against the ruling party officials.
The arrest and harassment of journalists from Radio Mano follows on from the attempted raid on their headquarters on 5th November. In a situation that exemplifies the crackdown on media, Zambian security forces then attempted to arrest another journalist from Muvi TV, who was trying to cover the police raid. Reports allege that journalist Njenje Chizu, an employee of Muvi TV was beaten by security forces and warned not to air any of the video evidence he had gathered.
Muvi TV’s Njenje Chizu Endures Police Beating, Released https://t.co/T1VxcY5Lyx pic.twitter.com/lS4XLzxOuz— Zedify It (@zedifyit) November 5, 2016
In December 2016, the Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo threatened to descend on civil servants that were planning demonstrations, accusing them of scheming with the opposition to frustrate the government. In an interview, he stated:
"What they don’t know is that we are way ahead of them and we know what they are scheming. We shall start pouncing on them one by one until all of them are arrested.”
Barriers to freedom of peaceful assembly remain a key obstacle to civic activism in Zambia. As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, Zambian authorities have a well-documented track record of impeding citizen assemblies.
Civic Space Developments