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. 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.
Siege of LAZ offices an assault on rule of law - SADC lawyers— The Mast Zambia (@themastzm) March 8, 2017
By Lulumbi Nakazwe
THE SADC Lawyers Association... https://t.co/ILzGRCHptT
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.
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.