Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty has urged Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu to uphold human rights of everyone.
After meeting President Lungu at sate House on Tuesday, Shetty said freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were fundamental human rights that should be upheld and respected in any society.
He is on a mission to the Southern African country, which has in the last two and half years recorded a surge in human rights abuses, mostly by the state agents and ruling Patriotic Front party functionaries.
“Zambia is facing a number of human rights challenges. Police constantly use the vague and overly broad provisions of the Public Order Act to limit the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The recent threatened state of emergency was a low point,” Shetty said in a statement on Tuesday. “Zambians have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the country’s history of freedoms that has characterised it since independence.”
Shetty also met with representatives of different communities who are at the risk of losing their land and access to food due to large-scale land acquisitions that are currently taking place in different parts of the country.
This includes villages such as Mbangweta, Demu, Kaindu, Mpande and Macha.
Many of them are fighting to remain on their land, through courts, after they lost their land to private investors.
“Protecting human rights means also ensuring that people, particularly, those living in poverty are protected against all forms of exploitation. President Edgar Lungu must put the human rights of all Zambians [as a priority], including economic, social and cultural rights,” said Shetty.
Lungu was controversially re-elected in August last year, and in the months that led up to that election, the space for any kind of political dissent or freedom of expression shrank dramatically.
Police used the vague provisions of the Public Order Act and the Penal Code to limit the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Political campaigning was restricted and the independent media came under attack for its critical reporting of government’s activities.
The government used a state institution, the Zambia Revenue Authority to close down the country’s most influential and only independent newspaper, The Post, on a disputed tax bill of about USD 6 million.
The newspaper’s owner Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta, and then deputy managing editor Joseph Mwenda suffered abuses, including harassment, beatings and arrest at the hands of the police.
Later, the state-controlled Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended licences of three media outlets, Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Radio Itezhi Tezhi.
The IBA alleged that the three stations were guilty of professional misconduct and posed a risk to national peace and stability before and after the presidential election.
On July 11 this year, Lungu declared a threatened state of emergency after a spate of fire outbreaks across the country.
Lungu’s government claimed sabotage, but this has never been substantiated up until the state of threatened emergency officially ended on October 11.
And on September 29 this year, a group of human rights defenders: Laura Miti, Lewis Mwape and singer Chama Fumba, aka Pilato, were arrested after they marched to parliament demanding answers about the procurement of 42 fire trucks that cost USD 42 million.
Last week, the IBA asked Prime TV to hand over recordings of all news bulletins and discussion programmes the station had run since August 7, 2016 after the station aired stories alleging vote rigging in last year’s elections.