Protests erupt over gang attacks, critics challenge proposed constitutional amendments

Peaceful Assembly

In January 2020, protests which began in the northern Copperbelt province spread to at least four other provinces by February 2020, as crowds demonstrated and lynched people suspected of gassing their victims. Since January, several people have been hospitalised after unknown gangs began a wave of attacks on civilian homes by using gas to immobilise their victims at night, prompting panic riots by the public. In mid-February, incidents were reported where mobs lynched suspects, blocked roads, attacked and injured police officers in the John Howard area and damaged property, including the Mumbwa police post. Military soldiers were deployed to quell riots after five suspects were lynched by angry mobs in Lusaka.

Expression

In December 2019, the country’s foreign affairs minister Joseph Malanji said he would send a protest letter to Washington following the US ambassador’s reaction to the High Court’s decision to sentence a gay couple to 15 years’ imprisonment. The US ambassador had said that he was personally horrified to read about the sentencing of two men, who had a consensual relationship ‘which hurt absolutely no-one’. Malanji on the other hand said this was tantamount to questioning Zambia’s constitution.

In September 2019, critics challenged the constitutionality of a proposed amendment to the constitution which would extend the president’s powers, with less than two years to go into the next general election in 2021. Specifically, Constitution (Amendment) Bill No.10 of 2019 would confer power on the president to appoint judges and ministers, change the electoral map by himself and would transfer the responsibility for monetary policy from the Central Bank to the government. Civil society organisations such as the Law Association of Zambia and Chapter One Foundation filed petitions in court to challenge the proposed law for being unconstitutional. Observers noted that the Bill is “designed first and foremost to consolidate the FP’s hold on the country and make it impossible to dismiss President Edgar Lungu.”

Lungu was re-elected in 2016 after an electoral process that was strongly disputed by the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) for alleged massive fraud. In a public session held in January 2020, Chapter One Foundation executive director, Linda Kasonde emphasised that the proposed amendments would turn Zambia into a one-party dictatorship.