The government committed to repealing the Defamation of the President law, amend the Public Order Act and abolish the death penalty. People with albinism suffered violent attacks, and LGBTI people’s rights were increasingly threatened. There was an increase in gender-based violence which disproportionately affected women and girls. Children and women continued to seek compensation for damage to their health caused by lead mining. The government fulfilled its promise to introduce free education. The right to housing was violated through forced evictions.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General visited Zambia in March to review the government’s progress towards implementing its electoral manifesto on human rights protection, among other things.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
Positive developments were registered in the safeguarding of rights to freedom of peaceful expression, association and assembly. On 9 September, President Hichilema announced that amendments to the Public Order Act (POA) and the repeal of the Defamation of the President law would be tabled at the next parliamentary session in January 2023. The POA has long been used to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of opposition parties and civil society organizations. Section 5(4) of the Act requires that anyone intending to assemble or convene a public meeting, procession, or demonstration, gives the police seven days’ notice, although formal approval from the authorities is unnecessary. However, the police interpreted this provision to mean that permission is required before any public assembly can proceed.
Historically, the Defamation of the President law, provided for under section 69 of the Penal Code Act, has been used to silence any criticism of the president. It carries a maximum three-year prison sentence for anyone found guilty of publishing defamatory or insulting materials, in writing, print, or by word of mouth with the intent to incite hatred, ridicule, or contempt of the president.
The police continued to use the law to arrest government critics and opposition leaders, further threatening the right to freedom of expression. In January, Raphael Nakacinda of the main opposition party, the Patriotic Front, was arrested for defaming the president. This followed his alleging, while on the campaign trail in the Mapoloto area in Chilenje (a residential township area in the capital, Lusaka), that the president and his “foreign friends” were planning to evict Mapoloto residents to make way for a shopping mall.
On 24 June, Justine Chimpinde and Danny Kapambwe of Chienge district, Luapula Province, were sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment with hard labour for insulting the president on TikTok. Before sentencing, they were beaten in detention by armed Zambian Army officers. On 1 September, Sean Tembo, leader of the opposition Patriots for Economic Progress party, was arrested for criticizing the president’s monthly fuel increases He spent six days in Woodlands Police Station in Lusaka before being charged and released on bond. The police blamed him for his prolonged detention, saying he did not want to be charged in the absence of his lawyers.
On 24 May, President Hichilema committed to working with the National Assembly to abolish the death penalty and commuted the sentences of 30 death row prisoners to life imprisonment. He reiterated this commitment on 9 September in his speech at the opening of parliament’s second session.
People with albinism
People with albinism were subjected to violent attacks and mutilation due to superstitious misconceptions about albinism. In January, a member of a local crime prevention unit discovered the vandalized grave of a 12-year-old boy whose hand had been chopped off. Police who visited the scene in Mungwalala Village Cemetery in Chama district, Eastern Province, confirmed that the grave and body had been tampered with. The perpetrators had not been identified at the end of the year.
On 25 June, three men severed a 10-year-old boy’s forefinger in Mkushi district, Central Province, while his parents were at church. Police launched a search for a suspect identified only as “Kendrick” and believed to be a local resident, and two other as yet unidentified men, for grievous bodily harm.
LGBTI people’s rights were increasingly threatened as government officials, leaders of faith-based organizations, and other citizens publicly condemned consensual same-sex sexual relations in online and offline media. Members of the homophobic #BanNdevupaNdevu #BanHomosexuality movement, established by Brian Sampa, held a protest and used WhatsApp to call for violence against and the killing of people suspected of being gay. In May, President Hichilema said that while his government respects and upholds human rights it does not support gay rights, justifying his stance on the basis that Zambia is a Christian nation. He said this after the Swedish and Finnish embassies in Zambia reportedly flew the rainbow flag along with their national flags in solidarity with LGBTI people’s rights.
In September, Lusaka July, an annual fashion and lifestyle event, sparked more attacks against LGBTI people’s rights. Homophobic commentary in the media and on social media platforms identified the event as a platform for the LGBTI agenda, and implied it was a western-sponsored attack on Zambian religious and cultural values. Calls were made for anyone who “dressed, behaved, and looked” like a gay or lesbian person during the event to be arrested and charged. Other commentary blamed LGBTI people for an increase in reports of cases of rape of boys and men. Lusaka’s Catholic archbishop accused the president and law enforcement agencies of ignoring what he alleged was a rise in incidents relating to consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Violence against women and children remained widespread. Statistics released by the Zambian Police Service for the first quarter of 2022 revealed that there were 6,915 reports of gender-based violence, compared to 4,254 in the first quarter of 2021. Of the 6,915 survivors, 58.7% were women and 25.6% were children of which 72.6% were girls. Women and girls represented 77.3% of all survivors. The increase continued in the second quarter, with 7,589 reported cases, an increase of 1,441 compared to the second quarter in the previous year. Between January and August, 1,066 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded.
On 9 May, Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre applied to intervene in an ongoing class action lawsuit in South Africa, brought by Zambian children and women against the global mining giant Anglo American. The claimants sought compensation for the widespread and long-term effects of lead poisoning caused by mining in Kabwe, Central Province.1
Economic, social and cultural rights
Right to education
In January, the government fulfilled its election pledge to introduce free primary and secondary school education. In July, the Ministry of Education announced the recruitment of 30,496 teachers in a further commitment towards improving the education system and guaranteeing the right to education.
Right to housing
On 20 August, the Chingola municipal council demolished over 300 houses built on land belonging to the Civil Aviation Authority and surrounding the Kasompe Airstrip located in Chingola District on the Copperbelt. The municipal council asserted that it had not allocated the land and that the structures were erected without local authority planning permission. Affected residents were not afforded an opportunity for genuine consultation, as Chingola council reportedly held a meeting on 19 August to plan for the demolitions and carried them out at 2am the following day. The state failed to take appropriate measures to ensure the availability of adequate alternative housing or resettlement ahead of the forced evictions. Nor did they provide residents with any form of legal remedies, or legal aid for those who needed it to seek redress from the courts.
While the demolitions were ongoing, the local mayor’s house and lodge were set on fire. Police arrested a 23-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy, believed to have been among those responsible. Affected residents accused the mayor of having illegally allocated the plots to them.