Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Eddie Mwitwa says it appears Zambia has reached a point whereby the only people allowed to assemble or express themselves are those aligned with the ruling party.
And Mwitwa has condemned President Edgar Lungu’s threats against youths planning to demonstrate over attacks on freedom of expression in the country.
Speaking in an interview, Mwitwa observed that the country’s democracy had reached a dangerous and worrying stage.
“We are at a stage that is very worrying because it appears that the only people that will be allowed to express themselves freely or even to assemble are those that are going to be siding with the government. So, if you hold a critical view, you are perceived to be anti-government or pro-opposition, which is not the way it should be in a democratic society. Freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution simply means one has the right to hold their own opinion, to express their view freely, as long as they are not defaming or violating another person’s rights, But to hold a contrary view to what the government or the ruling party views are, that is not violating freedom of expression,” Mwitwa said.
“So, we are at a stage where it is becoming very worrying and also dangerous. If the whole Minister of Lusaka Province can threaten youths who are simply expressing their views on matters of national interest, that for me is a source of worry. It also simply indicates that there is very little understanding by those who are governing us as to what it means to govern and also to allow people to express themselves.”
Mwitwa called on youths to rise and claim their right to express themselves.
“We as Zambians need to wake up and realise that if we don’t claim our rights, nobody else will. We have a responsibility, individually and collectively to ensure that our Constitutional guaranteed freedom and rights are not taken away by those who govern us. It is their responsibility to ensure that we enjoy those rights. They have no right to take away our freedoms unless we don’t want to exercise them ourselves,” he said.
And Mwitwa said President Lungu was actually supposed to see to it that all citizens were enjoying unfettered freedoms.
“As long as they have followed the requirements under the law which is notifying the police seven days before they convene their gathering as required by the Public Order Act, that is all they are required to do. Whether government likes what the youths are saying is not one of the requirements for holding a peaceful procession and also expressing their views. We actually condemn any efforts or deliberate efforts by the government to try and frustrate the youths in exercising their constitutional guaranteed freedom of expression and assembly,” Mwitwa said.
“What the President in fact should be doing is facilitating the youths to demonstrate and exercise their rights; because under the Constitution, it is his responsibility to ensure that every Zambian enjoys their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and he holds his powers on behalf of the people of Zambia because every authority, whether it is Judicial, Executive or Legislative derives from the people of Zambia. So we would urge the police, if those youths in fact or intend to actually inform the police about the intended procession, we urge the police to act professionally and objectively. Their role is to facilitate the enjoyment of those rights not to cartel freedom of expression and assembly.”
On Saturday, President Lungu threatened that all youths and civil society organisations planning to stage protests over his Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo’s attacks on freedom of expression would be dealt with by police.
Meanwhile, Mwitwa said LAZ was yet to get any response from PF and the police on the disruption of a Bill 10 discussion.
” here has been no response at all, not even an acknowledgement of the letter. We went as far as reporting the matter to the police. I think all the people that are supposed to have given statements from LAZ did that and we haven’t heard from the police in a while. I think what happened before this COVID epidemic became heightened, the investigations were kind of constricted. The complaint is still sitting at the police force headquarters,” said Mwitwa.