Zambia 2019
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Zambia 2019

The authorities continued suppressing the right to freedom of expression and media freedom through arbitrary regulation, intimidation, harassment, violence and use of oppressive laws. Independent radio and TV stations had their licenses suspended for their perceived critical reporting on political issues. Opposition political party activists and critics were arrested and faced prosecution on various charges, including criminal defamation of the president. Food security deteriorated, and the external debt rose significantly.

Background

On 21 June 2019, Parliament released a controversial Constitutional Amendment Bill for public comment, raising fears of excessive executive powers that would undermine the judiciary. There was heightened tension between supporters of the Patriotic Front (PF) and opposition political parties’ supporters, particularly during by-elections in various parts of the country. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and equal protection of the law was violated during by-elections. The police continued to apply the public order act selectively, targeting opposition party activists.

Freedom of expression

The right to freedom of expression and media freedom continued to be curtailed through use of oppressive legislation and arbitrary regulation. The authorities increased the use of criminal defamation laws to silence critics of President Lungu or the judiciary.

Rainbow Newspaper editor, Derrick Sinjela, continued serving an 18-month jail sentence imposed by the Supreme Court on 9 December 2018 after being convicted on contempt of court charges. The usual penalty for this offence is a jail sentence of not more than six months or the option to pay a fine.  Derrick Sinjela had published an article in his newspaper, written by an activist and alleging corruption in the judiciary on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Savenda Management Services v Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited.  The summons stated that Sinjela published an article titled "Zambian Supreme Court Verdict in the Savenda vs Stanbic Bank is 'Questionable'”, which utterances were deemed contemptuous. He was convicted on charges of publishing an article alleging that the judges had received bribes to overturn an earlier High Court ruling which was in favour of Savenda Management Services.  On his 63rd birthday on 11 November, President Lungu pardoned and released Sinjela.

In August, President of the deregistered National Democratic Congress (NDC) party Chishimba Kambwili was arrested for criminal defamation of President Lungu after the release of a video in which he allegedly implied that the head of state was a dog.[1] In the video that went viral on social media, Kambwili had said, "Some dogs from Chawama do not get tired of travelling." Chawama is a township in the capital, Lusaka, where Lungu previously lived and served as a member of parliament. In recent times, Lungu has been travelling abroad including to India and Japan.  The arrest came two days after the state Registrar of Societies cancelled the registration of Kambwili's NDC, saying its constitution was flawed.

The leader of the New Labour Party, Fresher Siwale, was facing charges of defamation of the president, and his trial started in October after a Lusaka magistrate dismissed an application to stay proceedings on 9 October in which his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of criminal defamation in the High Court. In this matter, Siwale is alleged to have, on 22 April 2018, with intent to bring the name of President Edgar Lungu into ridicule, published defamatory matter in which he said the Zambian President was not the actual Edgar Chagwa Lungu, but Jonathan Mutawale. Siwale is also accused of having called for the arrest of President Lungu for having three National Registration Cards.

On 4 March, Zambia’s broadcasting regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), ordered a one-month suspension of Prime TV channel, which has been critical of the government, just days after the governing Patriotic Front (PF) party accused the station of bias and unprofessionalism.[2] The IBA cited imbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language, especially during the Sesheke parliamentary by-elections held in February. Prime TV has in the past openly criticised the government of President Edgar Lungu. Prime TV, which employs more than 60 journalists and support staff, is one of the two largest privately-owned stations, along with MUVI-TV. The latter’s license was also suspended in 2016 after the presidential elections. Also on 4 March the authorities imposed a two-month suspension on the Eastern Province-based Valley FM Radio for alleged unprofessional conduct.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association

The police and ruling PF party cadres continued to disrupt peaceful assemblies and the right to freedom of association especially during election campaign periods and demonstrations. In many cases, the suppression of assemblies and freedom of association resulted in arbitrary arrests, damage to property, physical injuries and, at times, deaths. Those suspected to be responsible for suppressing peaceful assemblies had not been brought to justice by year’s end.

The period between 10 January and 12 February witnessed intensive political campaigning in the Sesheke parliamentary by-election and local government by-elections in seven wards in Lundazi. Katete and Isoka districts. The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema claimed there was an attempt by the police to assassinate him after they fired live ammunition at him and his supporters in Sesheke.[3] There was a heavy presence of armed police and PF cadres in Sesheke. Violence ensued as the UPND leader instructed his UPND activists to defend themselves if attacked. After the violent altercation between the two political parties, some people’s homes had been damaged and many sustained injuries. Suspected perpetrators were never brought to justice, but four police officers were summarily retired from the Zambia police service after beating up PF cadres who were beating UPND supporters in Sesheke.[4]

The Kaoma district council chairperson by-elections held on 10 October were also marred by violent clashes between UPND and PF supporters, which resulted in damage to property and the death of a UPND youth cadre, Lawrence Banda. According to the UPND, Banda was shot twice in the head by a known PF youth cadre on 6 October.[5] In a related incident UPND cadre, Chola Simwamba, was arrested for firing warning shots in the air after he had been attacked by a PF youth cadre on 5 October. The government stated that it regrets the killing of the UPND cadre, and in a statement on 7 October, President Lungu condemned the violence and killing of Lawrence Banda and directed the Inspector General of Police to take control of proceedings in Kaoma.[6] On 9 October, armed police blocked opposition leader Hichilema from campaigning in Kaoma and Mangango. To ensure impunity does not become entrenched, the Zambian police must investigate the murder of Lawrence Banda and bring to justice to those suspected to be responsible for the unlawful killing.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Food security worsened in western and southern Zambia due to a decline in crop production following rainfall deficits. According to official figures from SADC about 2,3 million people were at risk of food and livelihood insecurity, with children affected by malnutrition and stunted growth.[7] The severe droughts between 2015 and 2019 constrained the production of hydroelectricity and reduced crop yields. Zambia’s external debt of over US10-billion exacerbated its inability to provide social services like education, and to support agricultural production.[8]

 


[1] https://www.lusakatimes.com/2019/08/28/chishimba-kambwili-arrested-for-defamation-of-president-lungu/

[2] https://ewn.co.za/2019/03/04/zambia-suspends-pro-opposition-tv-news-channel

[3] https://www.lusakatimes.com/2019/02/08/hh-says-police-tried-to-kill-him/

[4] https://newsdayzambia.com/?p=8519

[5] https://www.lusakatimes.com/2019/10/07/murder-in-kaoma-upnd-confirms-one-cadre-shot-dead-by-pf/

[6] https://www.lusakatimes.com/2019/10/07/government-deeply-regrets-the-loss-of-life-in-kaoma-district-dora-siliya/

[7] https://www.sadc.int/files/7315/6284/6868/SADC_2019_Synthesis_Report_on_the_State_of_Food_and_Nutrition_Security_and_Vulnerability_in_Southern_Africa.pdf See also https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/zambians-facing-starvation-drought-esther-chungu/

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/11/china-steps-in-as-zambia-runs-out-of-loan-options