Human rights violations are intensifying scarily in Zambia under President Edgar Lungu, Amnesty International’s campaigner for Southern Africa Vongai Chikwanda told Today News Africa‘s Kristi Pelzel in an interview on Tuesday.
Indeed, there has been a rise in impunity, including unlawful killings, illegal and prolonged detentions of opposition figures and supporters and a ban on protests and public gatherings since Lungu came to power in 2016.
“For many years we have seen that Zambia was a haven for peace, but in recent times, things have gotten worse,” Chikwanda said. “Opposition parties are not allowed to assemble and protests are not allowed, and people are spending longer times in detention.”
Chikwanda’s interview on Tuesday followed a damning new report released by Amnesty International on Monday warning that years of “intensifying repression” have pushed Zambia to the brink of a human rights crisis ahead of August’s presidential elections.
The human rights defender reemphasized that public meetings by political opposition and civil society are largely restricted on the grounds of public security or managing the spread of Covid-19 while two independent media outlets have been shut down by the government over the last five years.
The new report documents the deterioration of Zambia’s human rights record over the past five years since president Edgar Lungu came into power, and outlines how censorship, excessive use of force by the police, arbitrary arrests and detention have created a climate of fear and impunity.
More broadly, the new report, “Ruling by fear and repression”, details how the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have come under increasing attack particularly over the past five years, with opposition leaders and activists jailed, independent media outlets shut down, and at least five people killed by police since 2016.
Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, led since 2016 by President Edgar Lungu, will seek re-election on August 12. The PF came to power in 2011, after Michael Sata’s victory. Sata later died in office in 2014, and the human rights situation has drastically deteriorated under Lungu’s presidency.
“Human right violations are across the country. The cases of the stray bullets have happened in academic institutions and in the capital,” Chikwanda said.
“With this report we have a couple of recommendations. We are calling on the government to end the crackdown against freedom of association and remove restrictions on the right to assembly,” she said. “The police have used the Public Order Act (1955) to regulate forms of peaceful dissent, and we are calling for an amendment of this law.”
Chikwanda added that the government is also using criminal defamation for anyone who is speaking out and charging them with public disorder, “and we are calling for repeal of section 69.”