Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) executive director Wesley Chibamba has said Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja should protect citizens that intend to hold peaceful protests over challenges affecting the country instead of threatening them as that is a threat to human rights.
Kanganja, Tuesday, issued a strong warning to opposition political parties and NGOs that were planning to protest against load shedding and Bill 10, among other issues, that they will face the wrath of the law if they do not adhere to the Public Order Act.
Chibamba has, however, said peaceful protests were every citizen’s democratic right to express their grievances on the challenges the country was facing.
“Firstly, our position is that it is a citizen’s democratic right to air their views on how the governance situation in this country is, on how the affairs of the state are being run. I think one of the avenues to air their views and grievances, if they are not happy about the state of affairs, is to protest; basically to let the government or those in power know that they are not happy on ABC issues,” Chibamba said.
“What we think the police should do is to protect the citizens that have to protest. We need to create that safe environment in which these protests can be conducted peacefully without disrupting any order. So perhaps, rather than threatening those that are intended to protest, you would expect the IG in his letter to just encourage them to abide by the law [and] also to commit to creating a safe space in which these people can air their grievances. If not, then they are supposed to provide alternatives…The threat is also a threat on people’s human rights…”
He said the police should not abuse the Public Oder Act to block the civic space in which people are supposed to participate in national affairs.
“So there are two sides on which these things can be looked at. I think that the police should realize that as much as they are in charge of administering the Public Order Act, we think that this Act should not be abused or misused to block civic space…The Public Order Act is supposed to help promote peace and order. It is not meant to cut down on people’s freedoms, not to shut down spaces that people can use to participate in national affairs. I think the sooner we realize that, the better. The Public Order Act should not be used to close down the civic space that people are supposed to use to participate in national affairs,” Chibamba said.
“The Public Order Act should be used to promote peace and order. We don’t think that there are any civil society organisations that were planning to disrupt peace and order. That was not their intention; their intention was to bring to the attention of those in authority…what they are supposed to focus on. Once the Police command appreciates that, then we expect them to further make a safe setup for the protesters rather than threatening them [so that they do not] protest.”
He said the police should not look at peaceful protests as a threat to peace but merely an appeal for action from government on the many challenges affecting the country.
“The law states that the police are supposed to be informed and once they are informed seven days prior to any public gathering…the police [should] create a safe space after they are informed by those intending to protest because they just want to air their discontent in the manner in which things are being handled. Basically, this is just an appeal to those in authority to prioritise these issues because they are affecting the people [who] are basically just trying to bring their concerns to the government,” said Chibamba.
“So this is in no way a threat to peace. We don’t see how people who are not happy with load shedding could be a threat to national peace. If people are saying that ‘you are going ahead with bill number 10’, then that becomes a threat to peace and order? We are not sure which organisations he (Kakoma Kanganja) was talking about but basically, we think people have the right to protest and as they do that, they are supposed to do that in a safe place…guaranteed by the police.”