The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern over the imposition of emergency powers in Zambia and recent comments made by Inspector General of police Kakoma Kanganja that some publications could be closed while the 90-day [Threatened] State of Emergency is in place.

In a statement, IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven Ellis raised a new international alert on the political situation in Zambia and the narrowing space for private media.

He said the imposition of emergency powers by President Edgar Lungu was politically motivated.

“Given developments in Zambia in the last year, the partial state of emergency would seem to be part of a broader effort that we have observed to silence critical voices, including the country’s remaining independent media outlets, and to step up the crackdown on the main opposition party, while at the same time fending off challenges from within the President’s own party,” he commented.

“We fear that emergency rule could facilitate human rights violations and we call on Zambia’s government to respect the vital role of media freedom in a democracy and to refrain from exerting political pressure on the country’s media outlets. Zambia was until recently regarded a model for stability, democracy and human rights in Africa, but events leading up to and since disputed August 2016 general elections that saw President Lungu narrowly re-elected to a second term have raised serious concerns about the state of democracy and media freedom in Zambia.”

He noted that UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested and detained on trumped up charges.

“UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who narrowly lost the 2016 presidential election to Lungu, is currently behind bars, arrested on trumped up treason charges after his motorcade allegedly blocked Lungu’s presidential motorcade in April,” said Ellis.

And the IPI went further to highlight recent events in Zambia.

On July 5, President Edgar Lungu initiated a ‘State of threatened public emergency’ and indicated that he might declare a full state of emergency if the “existing situation” in the country is ‘allowed to continue’, a procedure set out in the country’s Constitution.The move came amid a string of apparent arson attacks, including one that burnt down the capital Lusaka’s main market. Lungu alleged that supporters of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) were behind the attacks, which he said were intended to ‘make the country ungovernable’,” IPI stated.

”Zambia’s National Assembly approved the emergency powers invoked by Lungu on July 11 and extended the state of threatened emergency for a period of 90 days. The vote was held without the participation of 48 UPND members of parliament, who were suspended for 30 days without pay by the speaker of the National Assembly after they boycotted an address by Lungu to the house.”

IPI expressed fear that the situation could worsen in the country.

“Invocation of Art. 31 of Zambia’s Constitution allows the president to invoke the Preservation of Public Security Act, which enables the president to prohibit public gatherings, impose curfews and restrict the media, among other actions. It also gives the police increased powers of arrest and detention,” IPI stated, with added concern over threats from the police.

“Speaking to journalists at Zambia police headquarters in Lusaka on Saturday, police Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja suggested that some “publications” could be shut down while the emergency powers were in place. ‘During this period, police will regulate and prohibit publication and dissemination of matters [that are] pre-judicial to public safety,’ he said. Kanganja noted that the regulations in the Preservation of Public Security Act could be revised at any time. ‘As we speak, there will be additions to what I have commented on,’ he said. ‘You will find [that] we’ll limit some of these publications, social media and the rest where people are abusing, we might end up limiting on those publications,” stated IPI.