Panos Institute Southern Africa executive director Lilian Kiefer says any restriction on social media would be an infringement on Zambian citizen’s right to freedom of expression.

In a statement, Kiefer stated that her organisation was worried by Minister of Communication Brian Mushimba’s threats to ban access to Facebook and other sites in Zambia.

“Panos Institute Southern Africa is greatly worried by recent reports attributed to the Minister of Transport and Communications, Hon Brian Mushimba, indicating that the Zambian government would consider restricting access to some social media platforms like Facebook. Panos views this threat as an affront to the country’s democracy and development. It is our considered view as an organisation that any restriction on social media would amount to infringement of Zambian citizens’ right to freedom of expression,” Kiefer stated.

“It will limit the participation of Zambians in the global village, and curtail the growth of ICT based businesses. There is no doubt that social media platforms are an important alternative source of information for the citizens. We have also seen many cases where citizens have meaningfully engaged with government through social media.”

She urged government to find alternative means of curbing fake news.

“We appeal to Hon Mushimba, and the government at large, not to take the route of banning social media sites like Facebook. Instead, the government needs to work with other stakeholders to support Zambians to use social media for communication that shapes the country’s development. We also advise the government to find alternative ways of curbing fake news without restricting social media or infringing on citizens’ rights,” stated Kiefer.

Last week, Mushimba said if fake news, cyber bullying and other computer based crimes continued, government would be forced to restrict access to sites like Facebook.

“The issue with cyber security and the bullying, fake news and all these other abuses, as we fight them, if we feel at any point as government that it is getting out of hand and it is a national security concern, we may take the route that others have taken. If you have been to China, if you have been to Ethiopia, there are restrictions to certain sites you can go to and certain things you can do. We don’t want to go there. We are not that type of government. We are a government that wants to protect rights, promote rights, and we want productive use of the tools. If there’s a larger section of the population that chooses to prey on people and do all kinds of activities and we make a decision to go that route, you will see why we have taken that decision but we don’t want to take that decision,” Mushimba said.

Asked who defines that abuse has crossed the line, Mushimba said; “when abuse and crimes perpetuated through social media become a national security concern…you have been to China and you know how you can’t access Facebook, Google and all those things.”