The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called on the Zambia Police Service to abide by the Constitution and other laws when administering the Public Order Act (POA).
And the Commission has welcomed the acquittal Laura Miti and five others who were arrested last year on a charge of disobeying lawful orders.
On Friday, the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court acquitted Miti, PeP president Sean Tembo, musician Chama Fumba, commonly known as Pilato, ZCSD executive director Lewis Mwape, Bornwell Mwewa and Mika Mwambazi on a charge of disobeying lawful orders.
The six were nabbed outside Parliament building in Lusaka on September 29, 2017, as they were protesting the purchase of 42 fire trucks for US $42 million.
And in a statement issued, Sunday, HRC Spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya stated that the acquittal of the six, buttressed previous court judgements and the widely-held public knowledge that police were abusing their authority in the administration of the POA.
He acknowledged efforts by the Judiciary in providing guidance on the need to respect and protect the right to freedom of assembly.
Mweelwa, however, regretted that the police had continued to disregard the guidance by the Judiciary.
“Regrettably, the guidance and counsel by the Judiciary to the Executive through at least three landmark judgements on the police violation of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of assembly has continued to be disregarded since the Supreme Court ruling in the Christine Mulundika and seven others Vs. the People [SCZ Judgement No.25 of 1995] case of 1995,” Mweelwa narrated.
“It is important to note that the police are agents of the State. As a result, the violation of the rights of individuals by the police constitutes the governance and human rights record of the country in general and, in particular, the legacy of those in authority. Therefore, the Executive is expected to be deeply concerned at the police conduct that undermines respect for the rule of law, human rights and constitutionalism.”
Mweelwa stated that there was need for the Judiciary to start condemning the State to damages for malicious prosecution in order to end impunity.
He added that the Executive should equally start playing its rightful role by providing executive and administrative guidance to the police, aimed at enhancing good governance and human rights record of the country.
And Mweelwa hoped that the judgement would inform the POA reform process as well as enhance the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of assembly.
“The Commission is aware that during the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2018, President Edgar Lungu, through the speech read on his behalf by the Vice Republican President, Ms. Inonge Wina, directed the Minister of Justice, Mr. Given Lubinda, to expedite the process of amending and enacting the revised POA,” he stated.
“The case of the six human rights defenders and the subsequent judgement could not have come at a better time than now when the government is in the process of reviewing and amending the POA. There is now further judicial evidence of unlawful and discriminatory application of the POA against individuals holding divergent or dissenting views. It is hoped that the judgement will inform the POA reform process and enhance the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of assembly and associated rights.”
He stated that it was the desire of the Commission that the revised POA be tabled in Parliament for enactment during the first quarter of 2019.
Meanwhile, Mweelwa stated that it was high time practical steps were taken to promote and protect an inclusive democratic system of governance.
“The government does not only have an opportunity but has the authority to ensure that the POA is appropriately amended and applied in a manner that is consistent with human rights and multi-party and pluralistic democratic principles. It was high time practical steps were taken to promote and protect an inclusive democratic system of governance as demanded and cherished by the majority of Zambians who overwhelmingly voted to end the oppressive one-party system of government in 1991,” stated Mweelwa.
“The exercise of the right to freedom of assembly is a critical governance issue as it enables divergent views to contribute to better governance of a country and improved service delivery by fostering accountability and transparency in public affairs.”