The Southern African Center for Constructive Resolutions of Disputes (SACCORD) Executive Director Boniface Chembe has charged that the proposed Cyber crime bill is a threat meant to deter people from criticising the government of the day.

And Chembe says Zambian political parties are learning from Kenya on how to resolve disputes emanating from elections and that the country has made headways towards hosting a national dialogue.

Chembe told News Diggers! in an interview that the attack on cyber space means that government is taking away the only free space where Zambians can express themselves and criticise government without being victimised.

“These cyber bills by government is a threat to Zambians and it shouldn’t go through without being scrutinised by members of the public. All government pronouncements projected on such things are small threats towards citizens. They say ‘the space is banned, it has to be regulated, people are abusing the space, there is nothing good that is coming out of it and therefore let us regulate it’, that is not true. You don’t make regulations just like that. And they say use it, if you use it wrongly we shall come for you. I hear they have brought in a three years jail term for misusing social media. These are threats, they just don’t want people to criticise them. It amplifies the case of draconian laws or the culture of draconian laws. With the fiscal space already constrained, the attack on cyber space entirely means they are taking away the only free space where Zambian want to express themselves. God forbid! even talking about Arsenal may become difficult in Zambia. The traditional media spaces are closed to divergent views. So, if we have traditional media spaces that are not providing the divergent views that a society like Zambia needs and you decide to clamp down social media, where do people turn to? People are more interactive on the internet nowadays,” Chembe observed.

“If there is an event you will see it on the internet, you see it on WhatsApp, you will see it on twitter. Most citizens taking to the Internet will demand social accountability from duty bearers as well as free speech. So, the free space provided the necessary type of space that the fiscal space is not, that is to continue being in a position to demand for the kind of democracy that you want as a people and that space has been reduced by this bill. These laws will give power to police officers or any law enforcement agencies to either seize your phone, iPad or computer without any court order and resistance could attract a minimum court order of ten years. Then the laws attract forfeiture of properties, equipment’s and cell phone communications and surrender travelling documents in detention without bail. We do not know the exact content of these laws. They were drafted in secrecy and the government intends to implement them in secrecy. We demand that they release this bill so that it can be consulted upon by stakeholders. All bills undergo some consultation of some sort before they are taken to parliament for ratification so, what so special about this bill?”

And Chembe says Zambian political parties seemed to be learning from Kenya on how to resolve disputes.

“Actually, our leaders are learning from Kenya. If you remember after the 2007 post-election violence, Kenyans had to sit down and undergo a national dialogue process that was mediated, if my memory serves right, by the former Secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan. And that national dialogue process allowed Kenya to put in place constitutional legal reforms which is what they have used as a basis to govern themselves from those troubled moments to date. So, we have got a precedence in Kenya, they went through a national dialogue process involving everyone. Zambia is doing exactly what Kenya went through. And if you go through such a process, and then you experience the same problems again, it becomes a lot easier for you to resolve your differences by yourselves just like the way President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Ordinga did,” he said.

“We have made head way in the national dialogue process. As you are aware we are almost finalizing, fine tune the modalities of how the national dialogue process will unfold. There is almost consensus. There is almost agreement within the leading political parties in the nation that both the ZCID and the Church should play a role. Prior to that of course there was the part of the Commonwealth, and at some point, as it is normal, there was a chance for a course of action in that particular regard. So, we are hopeful that the meetings that are now being held between the Church and the ZCID will culminate into an agreement of how the national dialogue process will unfold.”

He said the national dialogue process was expected to take long.

“As SACCORD we understand that peace building processes will take time. And they are not a small process. We will have ups and downs just like a stock exchange and what we have seen is a normal peace building process. And if you look at various peace building processes that have taken place anywhere around the world they have gone through a similar path. So, we are happy that we still have political will from various political stakeholders to engage into the national dialogue process. Our appeal is that as the process unfolds, it is important that it remains as inclusive as possible and remains as all engrossing as possible so that no stakeholder feels left out whether domestic or foreign.”